I'm a writer and visual artist in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

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Posts tagged “Quotes” (page 1 of 2)

Fog and forgetting

Thinking about fog. Starting with my code that fades out the foreground based on the depth data, I modified the script so that there’s some randomness to the transparency. I want the edges of the object to shift in and out, as if in a fogbank. But the effect needs work, and I didn’t get any good images today.

I spend a lot of time remembering. I scribble lists of what to try next, I keep track of my hours, I write blog posts about what I’m working on. My code is strewn with comments and reminders. I save drafts and sketches, I backup my work. The computer is a machine for remembering.

It’s easy to forget how useful forgetting can be. If I’m stuck on something, especially when writing code, most of the time I just need to get away from it for a while. In the movie True Stories, David Byrne’s character says something that’s stuck with me for years:

I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don’t notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is.

Forgetting, not only as a creative strategy, but as a pleasure. A way to recapture the joy of experiencing something for the first time. This came up again in a book I just finished, Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire:

Memory is the enemy of wonder, which abides nowhere else but in the present. This is why, unless you are a child, wonder depends on forgetting – on a process, that is, of subtraction.


When I want to wonder, I read anything by Italo Calvino. His final, unfinished book, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, is a series of lectures about various qualities he valued in literature. He starts with “lightness”:

My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. […] Above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language. […] Maybe I was only then becoming aware of the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world – qualities that stick to writing from the start, unless one finds some way of evading them.

To erase the opacity of the world, what an admirable idea! I want my little fogbank script to attempt this. By erasing information from the video stream, by subtracting opacity, I can introduce a kind of lightness. An opportunity to see something as if for the first time.

Feet are good tools for forgetting. When I need a new perspective, I walk up Signal Hill, often along the North Head trail. I was up there once last summer, soon after I first moved here, and there was an incredibly dense fogbank hovering just off the edge of the cliff. I sat down and watched it for a bit. A kind of brilliant backlit haze, and peering into it felt almost as if my eyes were closed, but white instead of dark. After a while, I realized I could see something shifting around in the haze. It took me a minute to figure out what I was looking at, and I’m still not entirely sure if it was my contact lenses, or the inside of my eyes. But my vision was full of subtle little squiggles and inconsistencies, and if I moved my head they would swish from side to side. Entoptic phenomena.

The idea of seeing things with new eyes is present right in the title of Lawrence Weschler’s Seeing Is Forgetting The Name of The Thing One Sees. Near the end of the book Robert Irwin rants a bit about getting away from screens, something else I should try not to forget:

The point is to get people to peel those visors off their faces, to remove the goggles, to abandon the screens. Those screens whose very purpose is to screen the actual world out. Who cares about virtuality when there’s all this reality – this incredible, inexhaustible, insatiable, astonishing reality – present all around!

Working on a collection of poems

Helping a bug write a poem.

I’ve written poems for years and had a few published here and there, most recently in the Newfoundland Quarterly. A few years ago I started cobbling together poems I’d written over the years and trying to make something book-shaped out of them. Since then I’ve put together a couple of artist’s books of photography and writing, Small Landmarks and Field Notes. But most of the poems haven’t found a home yet.

A few months ago I put together new Professional Project Grant application for the Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council, this time to work on a book of poems. I found out recently that I was awarded the grant! So I’ll spend this spring finishing my first book of poems, tentatively titled The Colour of White Paper. The poems I am working on will draw from firsthand observation, offering a way of looking at landscapes and language that is sometimes sharply focussed, sometimes oblique, but always curious. My camera is present in every poem.

I found my tentative title, The Colour of White Paper, in a passage spoken by David Byrne’s character in the film True Stories:

“I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The colour of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don’t notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is.”

This passage is perhaps a reinterpretation of Paul Valéry’s famous remark, “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” My work often investigates the tension between seeing and remembering, as well as the themes of walking and revisiting a landscape.

The Newfoundland & Labrador Arts Council has previously supported my projects Make No Wonder and Field Notes. These Professional Project grants have really helped shape the past few years for me, allowing me to focus on my art and writing practice in a more serious way.


Going through indexical and older photos, finding pairs of photos that work together vertically, then pairing pairs.

“The thing about Rousseau’s Boat is that it came from the entire body of my old notebooks. It’s composed around principles of doing keyword searches on about twenty years’ worth of notebooks. […] all of my work comes out of my notebooks. […] the first long poem called Face, it’s all about these first person sentences. Basically every first person sentence I ever wrote in a notebook. […] Rousseau’s Boat culls from old material systematically, creating frames for sifting through, so every time I write a new poem for that piece I go back and reread… […] That autobiographical gesture […] like there’s one where I form rhyming couplets out of all the negative statements I ever made, everything that’s no and never. And now an index of last lines. […] The great thing about an archive is that an archive is anarchy.”
— Lisa Robertson, interview from Matrix 78 (Fall 2007)

These old beginnings of the universe

“How varied in multitudinous shapes they are –
These old beginnings of the universe;
Not in the sense that only few are furnished
With one like form, but rather not at all
In general have they likeness each with each,
No marvel: since the stock of them’s so great
That there’s no end (as I have taught) nor sum,
They must indeed not one and all be marked
By equal outline and by shape the same.

Wherefore again, again, since seeds of things
Exist by nature, nor were wrought with hands
After a fixed pattern of one other,
They needs must flitter to and fro with shapes
In types dissimilar to one another.”
— Lucretius, from De Rerum Natura

Unsystematic searching / scratching in glass

Finding myself far from the familiar, I am more aware of the world. Everything I read seems somehow connected, as if each book or blog post I come across is a mark on a map I am just beginning to understand. My brain is attuned; I keep making connections without trying. Living in a new place makes it easier to see things differently, to notice all the little details. Hardly knowing anyone here means my world is quieter, and I write more. I feel a fullness of purpose I haven’t felt since I lived in Montreal.

This clarity is perhaps because I have been reading a lot. Moving was an opportunity to pare down my library. Most of my books are in boxes in Newfoundland, lending a new essentiality to the ones I brought. A few days ago I chose four thin volumes to reread: John Berger’s And our faces, my heart, brief as photos, Don McKay’s Vis à Vis: Field Notes on Poetry and Wilderness, Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald. Books about channelling firsthand experience into memory and meaning.

I am writing in the university library, at a small table lit mostly by sunlight. Nothing urges me to write more than a chair beside a window. A moment ago I overheard two students at a nearby table talking about a history class. One described his visit to a distant historical site, an apartment made famous because a writer or writers had lived there: “The windows were full of writing; they scratched poems to each other in the glass.” My muddled impression is that he was talking about New England, but a little web research seems to suggest Robert Burns.

Writing in public has always felt best to me; I prefer coffeeshops, libraries and parks to the tiresome quiet of a desk at home. Used bookstores and chance conversations are my favourite ways to research. I do my best thinking while walking. These methods leave room for serendipity. I know I am on the right track when I feel slightly uncertain about the work; a little uncertainty leaves space for reinterpretation. It suits my work to feel a little unfinished, rough around the edges, liminal. Sometimes I work best when I’m not sure what I am working on.

“As you walk along, you find things. I think that’s the advantage of walking. It’s just one of the reasons why I do that a lot. You find things by the wayside or you buy a brochure written by a local historian, which is in a tiny little museum somewhere, which you would never find in London. And in that you find odd details which lead you somewhere else, and so it’s a form of unsystematic searching […] And the more I got on, the more I felt that, really, one can find something only in that way, i.e., in the same way in which, say, a dog runs through a field.”

— from The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald

Imaginary lines

From Quiet City

Aaron Katz’s film Quiet City is a lesson in seeing slowly, in making silence meaningful. Watching it is like reading Bashō for the first time; it puts me in touch with how I experience and interpret the world. Afterwards I feel fine-tuned, yet slightly off-balance, as if a wind has shifted direction slightly. Quiet City reminds me that it is possible to string together a series of small moments into something more.

This is how I make art, whether photographs, poems, blogs or book projects. Each project begins as a sort of journal, a series of small moments strung together, and over time tends to synthesize into a cohesive stream of work. I find this process of producing a series of small works over an extended period of time immensely rewarding. Thus watching Quiet City is an affirming, sometimes astonishing experience. I watch it when I want to remember how to remember.

“Those who first invented and then named the constellations were storytellers. Tracing an imaginary line between a cluster of stars gave them an image and an identity. The stars threaded on that line were like events threaded on a narrative. Imagining the constellations did not of course change the stars, nor did it change the black emptiness that surrounds them. What it changed was the way people read the night sky.”

— John Berger, from And our faces, my heart, brief as photos

Content ©  2019 Matthew Hollett. RSS