Goodman Engage: A Quantum Performance of the Real

friends ask how i, once an artist,
can sit behind a desk above the 16th & mission bart station
& write grant proposals for a project that remains unremittingly on paper
is perpetually aborted
& never sees the light of stage or text

i tell them
the files here above bart & its demented plaza are filled with alchemy
a secret formula stumbled onto by an assembly of artists
who held a city hostage for ten years
for a building & and an idea pressing to be born
corner geary street & van ness avenue san francisco
when ‘the conditions of consciousness’ & ‘objective conditions’
found themselves in historic juxtaposition & a new form jumped through

in the 70’s i was still painting
on my canvas a lopsided angel with only one wing but also no frame
in hopes a second might sprout if the edge were left open
to such a possibility

i was thinking of adding neon
some visceral extension that would reconnect the realms of life & art
let the forms of wholeness flow into our fragmented world
a new performance principle to bridge the abyss
between presence and absence/heaven and earth
a superconductive medium
or electric act perhaps

the goodman building where i lived & worked
fortuitously & in loose accord with other seekers
also had an open side
“gypsy” said tony who kept a diary of her highly irregular lifestyle
she welcomed all callers on an otherwise uptight block
of closely regulated entries & exits
in center city san Francisco

she had a florid past but hardly any future
standing as she was condemned to demolition & probable replacement with ineluctible highrise
courtesy redevelopment etcetera

‘highest & best use’ they said
‘highest & best use is open to argument’ said we and gathered to resist
feeling it critical in a time & place where little is left any longer to chance

‘enframing is the danger’ warned heidegger
‘trapping everything in place as object
it blocks the shining forth and holding sway of truth’

i said it in an installation in the building’s storefront windows
called NOTHING WORKS it showed the passionate impulse with its voice silenced
and a deadened reality – its instruments for hearing disconnected/
cut off

entropy whorled away/blurring form/breeding chaos
in this deadly equilibrium of two closed systems/out of touch

we answered together
twentyfive at first, we became a kind of one
a new age gestalt we were more than the sum of our talents
and carried along by currents which used us even as we acted in radically awakened will

we formed the goodman group
an unplane geometry centered in a shared archetype:
the commitment to building a utopian beachhead
in this center city sea of chaos
this funky elegant phasespace
whose form so fit our own
underground environment of felt connections
beneath the light of logic

nick, anthropologist in silver bracelets and long black hair
proposed the form: all associated & all free
it was proudhon’s dream – also the natural order
he wrote “we’ve saved the goodman for the present & plan to use it as our base to turn the tide of creation versus destruction in our community
it is a classroom without walls, a laboratory to the future
our tools are culture and humanity is gasping”

the studio where i painted had ancient windows
one opened to a view of city hall as if in foresight
another to a deck two floors below
it would often catch a pebble TAP TAP
pebble with a message TAP TAP
a call from comrades to come down
i felt it first as a distraction
reluctantly left off painting
descended a raft of rickety stairs
to meet, talk & figure strategies to save our home
then climb back up to paint my figure in a landscape
poised for flight but pinioned in symbolic flatland
& in solitude

the call would come again TAP TAP
but then one day i heard it different
pebble-window-my mind-&-senses-all-connected-elements-in-a-larger-work
wider than my mind but rooted in my heart, our need, and deeper still
in some shared pole of origin
magnetic ground
primordial act

i remembered don juan
“one feels the world through its lines – the world is feeling”
& arthur m. young “the universe is thinking & feeling its way into existence”

i felt played somehow & answered
descending stairs these everyday conveyors now alive
not matter anymore but pulled like me into their appointed place
in a sudden seamless drama beyond duchamp
but closer to the heart
descending the staircase i was riding the wavefront of an idea whose time had come
off the canvas & onto a line of force in some much deeper field

pebble at my window
enframing at our door
and karl jaspers in my ear saying ‘what encounters, calls’
and martin buber ‘only one thing matters –
that as the situation is presented I expose myself to it
as the word’s manifestation to me’

we were practicing a new politics.
and a new art form.
I said it symbolically in the storefront windows:
THE GOODMAN BUILDING IS ART ENGAGE’

seven signs with seven plump red circuits
connecting us and the world
meeting minds on through this site
mediating meaning
all circuits open

san francisco state sent sociology students to study us
they’d come to brunch on sundays to ask us who we were & what we were trying to do
and take notes

‘we’re a mutant evolutionary group functioning from necessity – our own – not someone else’s arbitrary visions’ said tom

‘we’re making our tracks collectively, like we could never have done
as one person’ said betsy ‘the group is blazing a path to a larger freedom’

‘the building has extended my sense of what art is’ said I
put it on a wider scale, bridging art and life’

‘one thing that excites me is living where I work’ said billy
‘most people don’t get to do that – it’s all compartmentalized into one or the other’

‘one thing I’ve come to in my life that I want to show’ said Marcia
‘is that people have the power to change their lives’

‘working together to do that – people working collectively to change their lives’ said michele – speaking for us all

& ted’s photos said it all without speaking a word

afterwards we’d gather together on the back deck under the guillotine
built to celebrate bastille day but never taken down
max – our li po president – would cook quiche, get laced, and read from the I ching:
‘the beginning of all things’ he read ‘lies in the form of ideas that have yet to become real, but the creative has power to lend form to these archetype – to their becoming’

doing what we wanted we had started a new world.

bob kaufman – san francisco’s black rimbaud – came to my room, his eyes in space,
and asked in a voice little used since his vow of silence – “what is this holy place?”

I would ask myself that lying at night amid the mystery –

mornings lord byron would pop in – one sock red & the other blue
‘I don’t like muddy colors’ he’d say, and read to me from kenneth rexroth

we were theatre povera in victorian drag
acting our way through a maze of contradictions
carrying order from another dimension
we would mime the marvelous on the steps of city hall and our own interior hallways
threepenny opera in the storefront theatre
in the dining room a string quartet
on the deck the witches of lilith rehearsed a scene from a feminist cabal
to speak about aids
in the kitchen a strategy committee cooked up satyagraha:
a politics of aesthetic engagement

upstairs a hive of studios and darkrooms each with its own loft
billy’s everyone agreed was the best
a treehouse that kept growing tendrils & secret compartments
gold rumored to be hidden in a newel post & hunted ritually late at night
now a great studio with a skylight from la boheme but seldom used since the agency
closed it down with a sign that said ‘condemned/do not enter’
the grants we got to do repairs turned back even after we got the building declared a city landmark

we would let the lines of our ideas out into the world
& when they would come back weighted with codes of constricted dimensions
would decode them according to a new paradigm constructed to the natural order
adding vortices of meaning/subtracting excess regulations
& letting in the lineaments of liberty;
receiving pieces
we would send back wholes

“man alone is able to transform objective conditions so that
they become a medium for his subjective development” wrote hegel
and so we did/each encounter a transformation
unfolding matter as we went
forming all to fit the pattern/the flow/of our joined mind

this went on for ten years
through press & public hearings/meetings & debates
an oscillating sculpture that carved itself
in history & the public sphere

topologies unfolded/new terrains/architectural & political
all true to our inner turnings
least action paths navigated through bureaucratic channels
that opened to call
each day hewing closer to our essential shape in time
we formed and lobbied for a new material reality
closer to the heart/the bone/the mind
nothing in excess and all beautiful

everything was allowed
chaos collected/then cohered
to reseat the center in the midst of our growing diversity;
centrifugal/centripetal balance
the physical and metaphysical spiraling round the axis of our shared existence
meeting at each turn in a new synthesis
and a new beginning

i’d recall paolo soleri
“the bridge between matter and spirit is matter becoming spirit

“dialectics” said hegel
“the holomovement” wrote david bohm
“alchemy” spake hermes trismegistos whose number of transformation I had cut from shiny black paper & pinned on the wall of my studio
writing beneath it “think of the thunder under four”

also a woodprint called “cross section of how”
having seen its shape – like a mushroom – in a dream
the pattern of becoming/theme & variation/spiraling in & out
unfolding order into life

we were bootstrapping the world
forming it as we went in aesthetic equations
pulling it up through a shared unconscious that grew to include
the state architect, the office of appropriate technology, the landmarks board, the state housing office, the national endowment for the arts, the tenants union, lawrence ferlinghetti, mayor dianne feinstein, and several thousand citizens of
the city of san francisco

we had made contact with an aesthetic economy
a bohemian balance of adventure and thrift
discovered a mythic math that calibrated with the logorythms of our deepest desires
we are eating entropy, i thought

when the end came and it did
it came as a tragedy should & all who watched it knew something different
had been tried — and almost won

an infest of pragmaticians brought us down
they came at a time when some who’d the vision had left
to open space for others

but they didn’t have the vision
and like the aborigines of another myth
it was our dream that had sustained us

“artists should stay in their studios” they’d say, the larger loops of logos eluding them
a vector collapsed/dimensions disappeared
our dance with destiny was done

but I found that
patterns in a painting point beyond themselves onto a possible world
they’re connected from within, a quantum route, a self-announcing path
responding to clues in the chaos: nuances noticed, then danced to
a golden mean zigzag/gravity gyre/weaving in gnosis/undoing dross
“not two, not one” but fractal – a pulsing fivefold rhythm
choreographed by the aesthetic unconscious
dissolving all frames

the angel I was painting grew that second wing
it carried me into some immensity somewhere past art
into the actual world

a nucleus of exiles keep the formula and the faith
and continue the search for another site
a new phase space for the strange attractor

it searches for us as well
destiny isn’t asleep

martha senger