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Don’t choose anyone who cannot be relied upon. They need to always, or almost always, turn up. Choose someone you do not know. You must have met this person but not have spoken to them in too much depth – an absolute stranger will not do. Think of someone who is not too convinced by themselves. A person with a sense of good folly who is surprised they are perceived. You know who I mean? This is the right person to ask. Your curiosity struck me as vast and you seemed to know, mostly, you were being misinterpreted and that was that. But that was not you.
I tried out the method. It wasn’t the response that I had planned. I’ve tried out a few things since receiving your invitation, like asking people for two words, which mostly came out too tidy, and taking pictures of the light coming through the window. I tried initially to think only of existing materials made by other people that resonated with my experience of Guitar! I struggled to think of anything that wasn’t too much of a leap. I later realised that there was something right in front of me, made by someone with whom I share a kind of on-going conversation or practice, not unlike my exchanges with you over the last few years.
Ten photographs I have taken of the light coming through my window at different times of the day since re-reading Guitar!
When I read an earlier draft of Guitar! and was trying to formulate a response for you that might be useful, I spoke to people about it and I think this helped me understand what Guitar! might be. I wish I could remember those conversations.
It hadn’t occurred to me to try the method myself until someone who mostly fitted the description of a stranger (not a total stranger), happened upon me by chance and good timing. I felt brave asking him if he’d participate and he was receptive. We met on a bench in a park which was maybe more picturesque than it should have been. The light at this time of year in Johannesburg is sharp. We’re going into winter. It’s very sunny but chilly.
I had already explained the conditions for the conversation. I wanted to find a way not to talk directly about our lives. We sort of managed this. At least, I didn’t tell him much about my life or ask about his.
I think the conversation happened too easily – maybe this is what was meant by choosing someone you don’t have a pattern with. We both seem able and inclined to fill gaps. Interruptions by people in the park helped me to gather my thoughts a bit and try to redirect our conversation away from that kind of ease. A woman came up to us selling things she’d made out of patterned wax cloth (we both bought ironing board covers) and towards the end of our conversation a little boy told us he was a cheetah.
The stranger spoke about being an only child and learning to listen by asking questions which he said has more to do with learning to stop talking. He said he had taught himself to be gregarious in order to draw people into his life, having not had people ‘baked in’. I asked him if he played the guitar. He said he’d tried but wasn’t any good. He plays the drums and the clarinet. I get the impression that he has dispensed with the with-ness in these practices, that he plays them well. Neither of these instruments allow for things to be dropped into them and shaken out again – at least not easily.
Kundai Moyo’s photographs document an experiment she conducted in 2019 in Johannesburg, where pedestrians were approached at random and invited to join each other on public benches for brief interactions. Moyo, traced the affective progressions of these encounters with a series of photographs. The photographs appear to depict moments shared between lovers and friends in spite of their being the product of a contrived encounter.
I’m not sure what to make of the experience but I had a lot of energy afterwards. I think I’d like to try again with someone who is less socially adaptable and with whom I have less in common. I made a recording of it, which felt like a distraction or further contrivance and I don’t think I’d like to do anything with it other than listen back to it again sometime maybe (when I’m old). I listened back to it a few times and it made me think about how hard it is for me to lose myself in a conversation. I am very proficient at the motions of talking to people but I am rarely surprised by what I say, which is what Guitar! seems to be getting at – that surprise I mean, the friction of not knowing how, the ‘with’. I would like for the other person to also be surprised by what they say.
I am still working out how to see myself as a writer, trying to make my lectures perfect and I’m still interested in this detail, this habit.
I wonder if Vivian has learnt to shake things out of the guitar on his own – if that was ever an activity that you would want to do without company, and if he has found a word for other children.
The lives of the townsfolk depend on you!
Chloë Reid is an artist, writer and curator based in Johannesburg.
“Because I do not play the guitar, nor do I want to, I have this with. I do not play the guitar, I play with the guitar.”
Aman Sandhu I chose this excerpt from Guitar! because it speaks to the generative space of the unskilled, the unlearned and the unprofessional. It opens the possibility of with-ness… being with others… being a witness with others. What happens when you lose the with – when you have acquired skill, when you have acquired accreditation… what are you missing, who are you not seeing? The materials that I have selected are united by a sense of with-ness, soundings that stumble from the personal to the social, and spaces of pedagogy.
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