“To obtain a single copy [of] T.W.C.C. please send four forever stamps and your address to…” read the PICA TBA:21 calendar of events website.
It was late September and I had just traveled to California for a family-related event. Rummaging through my fathers’ office, I found a classic white envelope and placed four vegetable-themed forever stamps inside, as well as one on the front. I addressed the envelope with my Portland return address, walked out to the single-post mailbox, placed the envelope inside, raised the little red mail flag, and smiled. The feeling of participating in a TBA event via postal service was entirely satisfying.
As a writer of postcards and enthusiast of the services that the United States Postal Service offers (you can send books for a reduced cost through media mail options!), I use snail mail often. From offering reasonable rates for sending postcards to rural areas, to delivering bills, information, ballots, and essential goods to those who operate without at-home internet, the USPS is a vital community-serving network generationally woven into the tapestry of American society.
After a gradual estimated $69 billion loss over 11 years and additional losses exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the USPS faced major budget restrictions during 2020 which resulted in the request for a $25 billion emergency fund grant. At the time, former President Donald Trump caused concern across the country by stating that he would reject the emergency grant, showing little interest in the agency’s continued operations. We watched in dismay as USPS drop boxes were removed from public corners and branches in small towns were shuttered due to lack of funding. Roughly a year later, it remains important to support the USPS, and a mail-in TBA event is a great example of how large art institutions and their featured artists can encourage their audiences to do so.
Upon returning to Portland, I was met with a small, green envelope addressed to me in looped black handwritten lettering— a mismatch of vegetable and American flag stamps placed across it. The wait was over: the mysterious written item I had been anticipating turned out to be a zine, roughly the size of its envelope, printed on thick pink, white, and green cardstock paper. This was The Who Cares Clock, the second edition of a project conceived and edited by PICA’s Kristan Kennedy and carried out, this time around, by Brooklyn artist, writer, and curator Eileen Isagon Skyers and designer Stephen Lurvey.
The Who Cares Clock, described by PICA as “a time-based print project released at random over an undetermined amount of time and available only through the mail,” reads more like a diary entry and less like the performance art event that I have grown accustomed to expecting from TBA. Whether this was the intention, I see it as a refreshingly simple take on time-based art, one that respectively chooses not to harken back to the work of Bruce Nauman’s solo made and recorded definitions of performance art, but rather to the audience-activated participatory aspect of physical art interaction that the Dadaists so strongly adhered to.
“THE ZERO POINT OF SIDEREAL TIME ((((((((((&)))))))))) TROPIC OF CANCER” introduces the bold first page of The Who Cares Clock, paired with abstract film negative depictions of plant life in neon orange on the opposite page. A lesson on sidereal versus solar time, the writing continues to explain the indication of Vernal equinox within our contemporary calendar as well as its meaning within ancient mythology.
“We all experienced a substantial rupture to our seasonally fixed patterns during the spring of 2020,” Skyers writes in the zine as they dive into the topic of last year’s Covid-19 shelter-in-place mandates and cultural redefinition of the term “essential”. The reader is invited to take a walk through their memories of the year as the writing recaps the issuing of stimulus checks, election of a new president, and uncertainty faced while the world waited in a sense of limbo.
With stark white graphics depicting coils, half-moons, and circles among the words, “Is it pleasant to be walking on the bridge?”, “AEQUUS NOX”, and “SOL SITIUM”, we are invited to enter “TROPIC OF CANCER” with another splash of neon hues.
“The Tropic of Cancer’s latitude line is at 23.5 degrees north,” reads part two. “It is the northernmost circle of latitude on Earth from which the sun can be viewed directly overhead.”
For many of us, the words Tropic of Cancer may be directly correlated with Henry Miller’s controversial and sexually charged book of the same name, which was banned for a generation while donning the explicit content warning, “Must not be taken into Great Britain or the USA.” Published in 1934 by France’s Obelisk Press, Tropic of Cancer broke the barrier on the use of profane language in text, setting ablaze an underground postwar anti-establishment literary counterculture that essentially paved the way for the freedom of content found in American written works today. While The Who Cares Clock deals not with Miller’s novel but with returning to 2020’s turbulent moments of meteor proximity, vaccine indecision, and “the moment George Floyd stopped breathing [when] it was as if the entire country tilted against its own vertebrae”, the zine consequently ends on a note of longing.
“…[W]ords like ‘protest’ and ‘uprising’ slowly fell out of fashion. We are urged toward more filterable aspirations as the season of sticky-nighted ennui draws to a close…” writes Skyers, gently mimicking Miller’s pointed yet surfeited attitude. The mind frame of a “who cares clock” is, after all, exactly that—a marker of the inability to distinguish whether at the beginning or end of a cycle. Usually given as a retirement gift to those who will no longer need to ‘adequately’ function in a nine-to-five work environment and therefore ‘know the time’, Skyers turns this symbol into an investigation of renewal— can we possibly return to a sense of balance? Do we want to? If so, when and how?
- The Who Cares Clock, an art-by-mail feature of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s recently concluded 2021 TBA Festival, was created and edited by Kristan Kennedy. Artist Eileen Isagon Skyers created the content of this second edition, and Stephen Lurvey was the designer. More information about Skyers and their work can be found at www.eiskyers.com.