Etel Adnan 2

13-16 March

Dear Katy,

In Journey to Mount Tamalpais, Adnan asks, ‘Do colours have the power to break the Time barrier, and carry us into outer spaces…?’ (1986) Adnan’s paintings are dynamic still lifes; surely there’s a charge to their stasis? The painted landscape itself extracts some tangible sensation, it ‘burns off’ the physical traces of colour, mineral, elemental exchange. The red square for me is that site of entrance, a kind of acid-laden tab which activates the neurological reaction of encounter.

I’m interested in how a colour performs in poetry and paint as iterative intensity. Maybe colour is a way out of essentialism, because colour is a performance of light. I’m starting to map a chromatic cartography of energy now. In what way do Adnan’s paintings create a binaural pulse, a subtle, invasive change in wavelength?

In Georges Bataille’s philosophy of solar expenditure, ‘the sun produces us, animates us, and engenders our excess. […] we are basically nothing but an effect of the sun.’ (1970) We had wasteful quantities of snow earlier, a slight burst of sunlight at noon to melt it. If I’m simply solar residue, the embodiment of excess, how do I recuperate that ethically in the way that I am in the world—do I turn towards abyss, and what intimacies are lost in this?

I wonder what the Oil Fields tapestry looks like on the back, imagining criss-crossing clusters of vivid lines. What does it mean to make harshly demarcated geometry of infrastructure? Since this is a tapestry, I think of the temporality involved in its craft, the association with rendering grandiose scenes from history. It’s as if every thread bears a trace of this charge. If I could just pull on a single tensile strand, what narratives of material transition might I begin to unravel.

It strikes me that what I am doing, writing to you, is also a sketchwork of thought, movement around a space. Asking questions like tossing multi-coloured threads to catch as you will.

With love & solarity,



2-3 April

Dear Maria,

I’m struggling to warm up—into writing, reading, dialogue, the city spring—the fragments that usually soften and fray at the edges into each other are still too sharp.

I’m stuck on Burtynsky’s work again. With telescopes, fossil-fuelled elevation, drones, ‘we’ see and perceive as though vision were devoid of material and political entanglement. I want to think along the manifold contours of worlds and subjectivities Adnan touches on, shattering Burtynsky’s claims to have ‘liberated [him]self from the limits of a point of view.’ (2017) Adnan’s work asks us to slow down to the processes in and through which ‘a point of view’ as a stable or coherent set of limits might be exploded. Édouard Glissant: ‘This-here is the weave, and it weaves no boundaries.’ (1997)

The making of intimacies and implicancies seem to be both the stakes and the tactics of what Denise Ferreira da Silva, after Joan Retallack, calls a ‘poethical’ approach to refiguring the reiterative violence of extraction, the rendering of racialised bodies and geographies into ‘raw material’. The mountain is a hole is a glimmering building, the artist Otobong Nkanga shows. For Ferreira da Silva, poethics is a cosmological project.

Adnan rejects linear, measurable time and space, seeking forms of perception beyond ‘miles and distances’. But there is always colour, block and portal, opacity:

I exist because I see colors. Sometimes, at other moments, it is as if I didn’t exist, when colors seem foreign, unreachable, impregnable fortresses. (1986)

Adnan’s paintings, I think, put pressure on the legibility and givenness of distance, the ground or assumed access of a ‘point of view’, turning perception into flicker. Their chromatic scattering opens onto what Retallack calls ‘reciprocal alterity’. Red light waves are scattered least by atmospheric particles, so enfold the day when the sun’s rays travel longest. In prismatic deep ocean, they are the first to be absorbed.

With ‘our’ dialogue, where do events in perception occur? Can we think aslant to the binary of artist/audience or writer/reader, across in-between and transversal affective dynamics, messy conglomerations of bodies? What does this gloss over when bodies are unevenly surveilled? And how might a cosmology of colour make beyond definition?

Katy x


Etel Adnan 3

16-20 May

Dear Katy,

Do you ever notice a shimmer in Adnan’s work? Deborah Bird Rose describes shimmer as ‘a capture that is all over the place’, a kind of ‘lure’, ‘a process of encounter and transformation, not absorption, in which different ways of being and doing find interesting things to do together’. (2017) Can you have an ontology of shimmer between static shapes?

I want to embark on an ekphrastic chromapoetics of Adnan’s paintings. Not an extractive logic so much as a hyperglow, a shimmerology of sensory impression. Reminding ourselves we are sensing animals, our species contains variants of perceptive limits.

You know when you’ve been looking at the light for too long and you close your eyes, only to see the flame-red of so many smashed fractals? I don’t know how to reproduce that in writing. But Adnan commits it gorgeously to oil. The value of painting then, is to pursue these intuitive geometries which are something of a muscular expression in lieu of the algorithmic eye.

I keep thinking about how this project would change if one of us were colour-blind and saw the red squares as green, and so ploughed into a kind of pastoral, agrilogistic narrative. Would that comprise an extra perceptive shimmer between us, trying to convey a deuteranopic vision with a trichromatic one?

Perhaps we might think of colourplay as material collaboration within the charged zone of the human or more-than-human sensorium. Shimmer as evolutionary allure and chromatic deconstruction within the event of perception.

Look closely at Adnan’s brush strokes and you will see that they are rarely perfect, they retain the incidental quality of the edge as such: little scratches keep form in hesitant play. Perhaps the paintings are saying, we cannot entirely smooth or harden our borders, they are all there to be made and unmade, smudged and hedged and bled.

Adnan’s work breaks the world into shapes, revealing its seams, creating portals of contingent commons in form. What we recognise of otherness, here or there, in the mode of encounter—itself a ricochet of the vision before.

Maria x


PART ONE published 28 April. PART THREE published 30 April.