Early this summer, I visited Marisol Limon Martinez in her Jackson Heights studio and home. After making my way down a few long avenues of bustling Bangladeshi markets, and riding an elevator up to the fifth floor of her building, I arrived at Marisol’s beautiful sun filled apartment. Following a brief walk through her studio, full of collage work and a series of layered paintings, we sat down on the couch and chatted for a bit about dreams, surrealism, accessibility, and the early days at UDP.
Kyra Simone: You are an artist working in several different mediums, not only in writing, but in visual art and music. I read that much of your work, regardless of what form it eventually takes, often begins with a piece of writing. Yet, when I think of quoting passages or lines from either of your books, I’m almost more inclined to quote “images.” Can you speak a bit about the relationship between your written and visual work?
Marisol Limon Martinez: It really depends on the series I’m working on, the subject matter, where my mind is, and what I’m thinking about at the moment. In my first book, the images, or rather, my memory of the images within the context of the narratives, dictated the language of my writing. So my work did begin with images in that case. I usually write something before I begin a visual piece that may or may not be included in the physical work. But, then again, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. The first love of my life was actually, music, and as a musician, sound and my physical relationship to my instrument, whether it’s piano or my voice, have always been important to me. With visual art and writing, it’s completely different. I think my relationship between and amongst my various mediums is very complicated. I still haven’t resolved it at all. But I think that’s what keeps me going, trying to find a way to integrate all of my disciplines.
KS: What medium have you been working in lately?
MLM: Painting and drawing. I’m also working on some pieces of writing, a long poem and a non-fiction piece, but they are things that I’m editing for publication, so I’m really just crafting them now.
KS: Your first book, After you, dearest language, has been described as a sort of index of dreams, and it is my understanding that it originated from a series of dream diaries and notebooks. What was your process of curating the various entries like?
MLM: The project started when I was living in Paris. I was working on a series of paintings for an exhibition, and sometimes I would have painter’s block. I’ve always had a prolific dream life, so I started writing down my dreams and then drawing recurring images from the dreams. These weren’t part of the exhibition, they were just sort of a side exercise. But the real impetus for that book was a visit I had to the Drawing Center in New York. They had this program where you could submit images of your work for potential exhibitions, and they invited me to present my work to a curator there. When I met the curator and showed him my work, which included my notebooks, he told me, “Nobody cares about your little diaries, nobody cares about your dreams.” At first that made me really angry, but then I thought, well, how can I make people care, and I think that may have been his point. So it was after that that I started really thinking about the organization and presentation of that body of work, which of course led me to its index format.
KS: Is there a reason there’s no ‘Q” section?
MLM: (laughs) Oh right, I guess there weren’t any Q words.
KS: Have you ever created an index of dreams expressed through pictures? Or has that been what much of your visual work is in a way?
MLM: Many of the paintings I worked on in France were based on those dreams, and I continued making work from my dreams for several years. There are a few hanging in the hallway actually. I’ve done many individual symbols. That was my main visual work for a really long time. I only made four paintings of actual narratives. They’re very simple and sketchy looking, done with oil paint. The rest were individual or groupings of symbols.
KS: Have dreams played a role in any of your other work, your music for instance?
MLM: No, not really. I mean, sometimes something I’ve written down maybe becomes a lyric, but not in terms of composing or creating a song.
KS: Do you still write down all your dreams?
MLM: Sometimes, if they’re really intense. I still have really intense dreams. The last one I wrote down, was handwritten, 4 pages.
KS: What was the last dream you had?
MLM: Oh, I had one this morning. I was lying down in this big field and I couldn’t get up. There were all these children running around me, and I was thinking, oh no, they’re going to step on me. Then this boy and this girl stand above me and they just spit on me. I end up getting up and chasing them, and I want to yell at them, but then I think, oh no, I can’t yell at them, they’re just children.
KS: Much of your work, both written and visual bring up elements of surrealism. In French, the term, “Surreal,” doesn’t necessarily mean “unreal,” but rather, describes something to the effect of more “real” than “real,” or that which exists beyond the “real.” What does surrealism mean to you, and do you think it has a place in literature or art today?
MLM I think what you are saying, that it’s more real than real, is essential. As technology advances and as we get more information about what’s happening in the world, even though a lot of it is wrong information, everything just seems to be more and more confusing. I think for some reason, surrealism and this idea of creating your own world that is beyond what is real, and really investigating that world of your own, is the only thing I can really do–it’s responding to the world in the way that I can. Right now, for instance, I’m about to make a short film, which I’m directing and acting in. When thinking about the images for it–and I wasn’t thinking this yesterday while taking notes, but now that you bring up surrealism–I’m realizing that my subject matter really is surreal. I don’t even want to talk about it very much because I haven’t done it yet, but it’s sort of like layers of topographies.
KS: I think people often find that surrealism, especially in literature, can feel very dense and inaccessible. Why is it, that sometimes, when writing is so packed with imagery, it can make it difficult for readers to form a big picture of what’s happening in the work? How does one make a text that deals with the subconscious accessible to someone outside of it?
MLM:After you, dearest language is organized in such a specific way that it makes it a little more accessible to people. I’ve been working on a long poem that’s going to be published next year and it will be accompanied by some of my images. I’ve given the manuscript to five people, all writers, and one of the readers found it totally inaccessible. He went through it with a red pen, like a teacher– he actually is a teacher –and he had notes for every single page. I don’t know, some people will find my work totally inaccessible, and some people will find it really accessible. I think you just have to be honest with yourself and with what you’re writing. You have to ask yourself if it’s really what you want, and not be so out of tune that you don’t know what you’re saying. I think that if you know what you’re saying, then it’s going to get across to the reader, maybe even unconsciously, even if it’s confusing. In my novella that I wrote, there are four stories intertwined, and with this forthcoming poem, it basically has two narrators through it, but in my mind it’s maybe more like eight narrators. But I try to divide it up so it reads more like two, in order for it not to be so insane and completely confusing.
KS: You’ve been involved with UDP in some way since its early days as a collective. What is it like being part of something that may have been perceived as very avant-garde or outsider at the onset, but with time, has come to face an artistic climate that has changed and maybe become more accepting of that kind of work? What happens when a movement that may have begun with a bunch of kids drawing in the basement of an apartment, turns into people in offices ordering tape from Uline to ship out more books, etc.?
MLM: I was one of the first members of the collective, and back then, in the early days we’d be hanging out in a loft in Jersey City, then someone would write a play and we’d all just suddenly perform it. Or we’d be up all night making boxes for the Emergency Gazette to put around the city, like at the Pink Pony when it was a café and performance space. With Loudmouth Collective, we had monthly events called Anti-Readings at Tonic on the Lower East Side. There was so much vitality and energy coming from us creating around each other and for each other, and so many different disciplines crossing over through each other, that I think once the Presse started becoming more established I did feel a little nostalgic for those days. But then, realistically, things need to evolve. Fifteen years later we’re not going to be performing each other’s plays at two in the morning and making things for each other all the time. I mean, ideally, you wish that would happen, but all of us have our own lives and we’re not all living in the same city. So I think it’s natural, and I’m really proud of the Presse and all the people involved that have gotten it to this level where it is really respected and people know a lot about it, and it’s incredible to see academia being responsive to the books the Presse publishes. I remember telling an old friend of mine from high school in San Antonio, Texas, about Ugly Duckling, and she said she didn’t even know people still wrote poetry. So I think it’s been a really great thing to be involved in spreading the word that there’s a press out there that publishes poetry, when there are so many people who don’t even realize that poetry is still being written.
KS: What are some current day artists, writers, musicians or even collectives that feel avant-garde to you in today’s artistic climate?
MLM: I don’t really think in terms of the avant-garde, but I guess the first one that comes to mind, when you say collective, and maybe it’s just because they’ve gotten so much press recently, isthat collective that was in the Whitney Biennial that just pulled out. The Yams Collective. There’s been controversy about them because of that, but what’s really important is that they are addressing race in the art world. I’m also always interested in artists who are older and working, like Pauline Oliveros. She’s a musician and I think she may be in her eighties now. It’s these artists that just keep doing it, who are still in motion, who to me are really amazing. It’s funny, when people bring up retirement, I don’t even know what that means, I just feel like I’m going to be doing this until I die. As I get older I think the artists I look up to are older artists that are still thriving in their work. In terms of work that I’m really drawn to, there’s so much work I’m drawn to all the time, it’s hard to pin point one person.
KS: At the Presse, we’ve been going through the archives and putting together collections of everything UDP has done. I’ve recently been looking through a stack of New York Nights. Can I ask you a little bit about how that got started?
MLM: I started New York Nights with Julien Poirier, who is a poet and was also a member of Ugly Duckling. We were in a relationship at that time and it was right after September 11th. The United States invaded Afghanistan and we were just like, “What the fuck is happening, this is totally crazy.” So that’s what started it. We wanted a platform for writers and artists against the war. It was also a response to the climate in New York at the time, and the panic over, “Terrorists,” and “Terrorism.” Julien and I were the most overtly political and were the main Ugly Ducklings running New York Nights, but other people who were part of the collective contributed poetry and/or images to it. Filip Marinovic, Matvei Yankelevich, Ellie Ga, Ryan Haley, James Hoff. Ryan also did a lot of the layout with us and Greg Ford wrote a column in practically every issue, called, “Pressing Charges.” The paper was basically our response to what was happening post-9/11.
KS: Are you working on any other writing projects right now in addition to the long poem?
MLM: I’m working on editing a non-fiction essay I wrote called “Honorary Men” that will be published as a chapbook this fall by Guillotine. And one project that’s been taking me a really long time to finish, is a series of poems by contemporary poets that I’m collecting and setting to music. So far, I’ve completed individual pieces by Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Cedar Sigo, Steve Dalachinsky, Yuko Otomo, and Matvei Yankelevich. It’s really challenging because the poems I’m choosing are clearly not meant to be songs, and I’m trying my best not to edit them too much. I call them, “Art Songs,” from the nineteenth century idea of art songs, but I’m still working on a title. Because I have so many things going on, it’s really been sort of a side project. But it’s a huge part of my daily life right now. If I’m walking down the street or crammed in a subway car, or waiting in line at the post office, in my head, I’m crafting a song for one of these poems.
Marisol Limon Martinez is a visual artist, writer, and musician based in New York City. She is the author of, “After you, dearest language,” (Ugly Duckling Presse), “First Space, Then Structures,” (Nothing Moments Press), and was the cofounder and editor of the newspaper, “New York Nights.” Her chapbook, “Honorary Men,” is due out from Guillotine this fall, along with a book-length poem, entitled, “Indian,” to be released by Octopus Books next year.