Elliat Albrecht's Delicate Recordings
In return for her tireless contributions during the creation of Homecoming (Elmo’s House Artist Residency’s first annual publication), Elliat Albrecht completed a brief residency at Elmo’s House at the beginning of July.
Elliat has made a career out of writing about other peoples’ work. She is excellent at what she does. She has interviewed many artists, from the emerging to those known the world over. Elliat has reviewed many exhibitions for various art magazines and online publications; likely you have read her writings in Artforum, ArtAsiaPacific, Ocula, Artomity to name a few.
For her part in Homecoming, Elliat submitted a thoughtful essay about space and its many manifestations, all key to the art-making process. What poetry then that for her writing on the virtues of space, Elliat received her own 'away space' in kind. In her essay she wrote, 'Sometimes, in order to create a place conducive to work, one must escape one’s own life. Such is away space, found most often in artists residencies - opportunities to work away from home.’
Equipped with her laptop, a copy of Michael Ondaatje’s, ’There’s a trick with the knife I'm learning to do' and a case of drawing implements, Elliat spent her days accomplishing her intended occupation. A stool and a modest corner on the communal workstation was all she claimed to conduct her work, shifting slightly left or right according to the position of the sun. Hours were spent here, back to the window, crossed legged, hunched over a sketchpad, laptop or book. Elliat had gone to ECUAD for a few years only to come away with a belief she is not an artist. It is hard to imagine there was not more support for the natural gift for drawing Elliat possess. Clearly, Elliat is highly skilled in translating her observations onto paper. The body is her main concern, but during her residency, she turned to the objects in the studio for her studies.
Elliat had zeroed in on a looking apparatus in the studio, as a way to express her own observations. Though not certain she used them herself, it became a point from which her imagination caught flight. From her appointed studio, she mused over the bustle that occurred below, daily comings and goings of the locals through the black iron grate of the windows.
By Elliat Allbrecht
In the studio there is a pair of green binoculars
hanging from a staircase in a green case
and another down in the kitchen.
Optimal for spying.
But the only pace distant enough to require such
a device is Batan Town Hall across the plaza,
where one can see through the windows the
employees who don’t use computers but
who can recall with alarming precision
who came in at christmastime
with the wrong form and left embittered
and exactly how each resident is related.
The radio-carrying rider of the tricycle and
the second fisherman at the pier, the best
singer on Sundays and the crying baby next
Otherwise, the binoculars can only be used
to enhance the view of what is already close.
The bell on the church (due to age, in disuse),
the branches fo the one shrub in four
that's so far been pruned
the boys with their motorbikes, leaning against
the cool, white statue in the centre of town.
But through the lens, the details become immense:
the throats of the speakers below the bell which
toll its recorded rings (their batteries dying, the
chimes out of sync)
the snipped veins on the trimmed leaves,
the engraving on the bike engine’s chromes,
glittering in the sun.
In the evenings, Elliat assisted in the dinner preparations; cutting vegetables, stirring the pot, serving as the base for good conversations.
Elliat disclosed the elements of a short fiction that currently lives in her mind. It is waiting to be written, biding its time until Elliat gives it life with words clear and precise.
I often worry that my writing has become too stony and serious, so I wanted to challenge myself to unwind and become more creative with language by writing without parameters.
With such a short time at the residency, did you have any specific goals you wanted to accomplish during your time here?
Given its short duration, I viewed the residency as an exercise rather than a project. I used to write a lot of fluid, strange fiction in the kitchen of my tiny Vancouver apartment, but for the last couple of years, I've only been editing and writing factual, research-based texts about art. I often worry that my writing has become too stony and serious, so I wanted to challenge myself to unwind and become more creative with language by writing without parameters. It was actually a lot more difficult than I anticipated. When I got stuck, I made drawings of things around the studio. It wasn't until about the fourth day that the dam broke—and it helped to make a prototype of a book.
Are there things that came out of the residency that you are continuing in your day-to-day?
Starting my day off with a coffee and a little banana! Ha! I do feel I've unwound some of the tightness in my professional writing, into which I've begun to incorporate more poetic phrasing. I was really intimidated by the blank pages of my notebook, and now they scare me (a little bit) less.
Can you describe your current studies and how that has informed your interest in HongKong based artists?
I've lived in Hong Kong for three years and am doing a masters in cultural studies at the University of Hong Kong. The course uses theory, literature and film to examine Hong Kong's complex post-colonial identity and the territory's complicated relationship with China. I love both Hong Kong and art so deeply so it was only natural that the two would coincide. Some of my favourite artists are here, like Chris Huen Sin Kan who paints domestic spaces in a beautifully inventive style; Nadim Abbas who makes witty and conceptual installations; and Wong Ping, whose animations are so raunchy that I have to close my curtains why I watch them at home. I'm really interested in the art ecosystem here and the kind of small, artist-run spaces that are popping up despite the lack of government funding.
Can you describe the short fiction you are currently working on?
A few summers ago, I met a man in Italy that owned a mountain comprised of the world's most famous marble. He inherited it under mysterious circumstances and was marvellously eccentric; I remember his private pilot saying that the man would sometimes decide on a destination only when his plane was in mid-air. (Such a capricious approach to travel was most often used when he was fleeing a lover.) It seemed outlandish that one person could possess a literal mountain of inexhaustible wealth. I wasn't impressed by the money, but I was extremely fascinated by its source. The experience reminded me a lot of one of my favourite short stories, F. Scott Fitzgerald's A Diamond as Big as the Ritz and I've wanted to write about it ever since.
Never underestimate the power of a sentence with gorgeous rhythm.
What inspires you to write? What makes for a good story?
I'm inspired by other writers like my friend Ashley Silzer who can craft a quick WhatsApp message that's more eloquent than many novels, and by my favourite books like Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveller, Chris Krauss' Where Art Belongs and Ondaatje's Running in the Family. Every now and again I read a piece of writing (especially about art) and think "God, I wish I wrote that," and that drives me back to my desk. I think maybe artists experience the same thing.
As for the qualities that make a good story, I believe they're as elusive as what makes a good artwork. An ornate, complex work can be just as impactful as the most simple. I know I've seen a good movie if I think about it for weeks or months afterwards; perhaps it's the same. Never underestimate the power of a sentence with gorgeous rhythm.
Most artists have earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones when they are working. You chose to sit nearest the window, taking in all the possible sensorial information. Did you have a reason for this?
I liked hearing the thunder, and the kids play basketball. Sometimes I did listen to this album though.