Veronika: Chess Days

December 6 - December 9, 2017


Veronika: Chess Days, 2017

Chess Days, a body of work that is autobiographical in nature, is a visual record and diary of veronika’s daily game of chess with her spouse. One hundred and seventy five pages in total, each acts as a record of individual games and where they paused. As a whole, the work reads as a chess novel, with scribbles of poetry and pillow talk, a visual diary drawn in watercolor and scribed with a feathered ink pen. Architectural in composition, the work is an abstraction of the chess game. Chess Days celebrates inconsistency; some pages executed meticulously while others are marked with splatter, some only which the artist can read. Intimate and personal, Chess Days is being exhibited and shared with the public for the very first time. Both an artist and writer, Veronika’s project is best described in her own words, Chess Days: a Manifesto.

Chess Days, a Manifesto

“My chess partner, Ron, hardly fell short of camping out in the line for the first I-phone, but I resisted for years. It was only after my hand drawn records of the easily toppled chess games in progress melted into an art project that he broke it to me — that he could just snap the game in progress in his I-phone, no need for me to bother. I pretended not to hear him. Maybe he had one of those things, but I didn't. I was not yet corrupted. After we lived for years steeped in the fumes of our adjoining studios, and I'd soaked him for all he was worth, the obvious envy (of course that's what it was!) of "Old Master Ron" — who admittedly after conquering this vice, offered as much encouragement as old stonewall could ever conjure up — would not deter me! To see if I could actually stick with one format for that long, as an exercise, I'd already committed to this project for a year.

The breakfast chess games transpired, if weather permitted, in the cordoned off front of the backyard allotted to our unit, a noble little garden crawling with climbing hydrangea and honeysuckle and overshadowed, beyond the holly sprawling over the low brick wall, by a century old mulberry tree housing the general assembly, where delegates of every species of bird in the neighborhood, most notably the cardinal and the mockingbird, gathered to dispute, sometimes break out in brawls, and sing a hymn to universal brotherhood. The stoop where Joe's clan, really no more species-centric than the majority sparrows, gathered next door served similarly. As our white-breasted, black shepherd chow, Bear — soon to assume the Greek form "Callisto" inspired by the eponymous Venetian opera performed around the corner on the fire escape of a brick warehouse on the Gowanus Canal, as Venice, the invisible city of so many masks, slipped into another warp in the spacetime continuum — bolted after squirrels, or lay on our feet, we sipped (in his case slugged) Ron's famously strong sweet home roasted coffee and spooned up his famous crunchy/chewy, un-mushy oatmeal, which he figured out how to cook that way after years of experiment in pursuit of the qualities of his father-lauded grandmother's. Gently blissed out, doting on distractions, we hung onto the chess board for ballast, only playing at playing, warning each other of attacks and taking our blunders back to avoid a total fiasco.

In truth I would have reneged and broken the contract, but I liked doing it more than I liked not doing it, in fact, now that I see them side by side, I'm going to switch my like to love. I also found interesting what was happening there, not just on the surface, but under it. The slowly moving pieces focusing thought we'd relieved of all pressure in the quietly chirping garden bred a philosophical mood, where I could muse on the meanings — the extremes of order and chaos reflecting other contrapuntal terms that multiply on reflection and resonate musically in the mind, implying the repleteness we intuit, though it echoes back muffled and erratically, fleetingly felt — just as my frequently fumbling hand and haphazard thoughts and memories found themselves sneaking up on it, not trying too hard, hardly trying at all, as trying is so trying, not a nice thing and bound to scare this skittish zeit-scorning geist away.

Though I couldn't yet see or define it, I liked its way of fading in and out of language, fluctuating between presence and memory, anchored to a grid and a game with rules, that being what the world does to appear a world at all, leave it at that, and let it go — now now now, the holy lowly how of happening coming going, before being clocked moving forward backward sideways, the jangle of everything there in the beginning — though you'll see I got tempted to dredge Ron's beautiful green teapot out of the flowing river of it all and own it.

Though possibly chipped, often a bit dusty, some smaller pieces from another set replacing lost ones, like Ron and I, these aging, endlessly patient icons lucked into a player ready to reinvent them, ever young. Or rather something else did it, the same thing that obliterated them along with everything else in thrusting the last instant it all appeared into the black void of the past. My pen and brush, casting a cold eye on the scientific fact of this dire removal, then found them in the act of beaming in from nowhere, still limited to tentative outlines and imprecisely calculated shadows, but there they were, ready for roll call — hovering in space? check, in a geometric order? check, assuming a past arrangement ready to pounce into a novel one? check, washed with colors in the air, or colors out of nowhere ? check.

All there, just all there, the rare spare there-ness the gravy for redeeming the mishmash that always over- or under-does just being there. Savoring the gravy sometimes splashing over to the side swirled over, like the dome of a mosque shrinking and melting into a breast tattooed with symbolic scrawl commemorating sacred everyday life, words of wisdom from the patriarch, with constant affirmations of the credo of Ibn Arabi— I believe in the religion of love.. — my pen and brush danced with the rhythmic melodic curvaceous contours of the chess pieces, repeated like songs— simply being a kind of music, both pregnant and sexy (where it almost seems like somebody intelligently designed this kit of parts to fit the stretching schedule that came with my scheme). Such music melts the difference between art and life into almost ineffable as the story of the game meanwhile unfolded on its own thoughtful, but always surprising melodic line, the contrapuntal gazes of the players hopping from spot to spot on the board, slowing to follow a line of logic, then leaping from here to there, but always aware of the larger order. Each player projects (or tries to) herself into the other's perspective such that the two, opposing autonomous views, as in baroque counterpoint, unfold interactively. Still, to make it music, you must be Bach and fall passionately in love with the logic, the colors pouring over and seeping into the chessboard, actually with Bach it's the chess board that's blushing or otherwise showing its colors. In cold weather, when we stayed in, we often listened to Bach during breakfast, and come to think of it, we brought a speaker outside and listened to Bach there too.

So in a way as it gesticulated like the peg of writhing water, a molten crystal kabuki dancer, in the makeshift fish pump fountain in the garden, Bach's music — it's a stretch, but I'm elasti-spider woman! Here gulp down this potion to achieve my powers of remote association to maximize the reach of my world wide web — was my model for a gesture drawing, where you catch and freeze the gesture with a few fast strokes. It's just an exercise, and if the drawing fails, that's perfectly okay. Though most throw up their arms in despair when they don't seem to be getting anywhere, I say it's better to fail at playing Bach than succeed at anything else. You should treasure forever one almost credible measure, for when consumption has given way to production, the quantity of production might be too small to measure, and neither can the change in quality be measured, but to become a producer just to create more consumption is just to be a whore, excuse me, sex worker, not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, who can avoid it on some level?

Plus while failing at nailing Bach, one inadvertently succeeds at other things, like in this case documenting the last traces of the last breaths of life as one precious little flame, before the I-phone multiplied it into a mountain of them that one day merged, and now pretty much all we I-phone idiots tend to do is aim our little I-phone water pistols at the raging conflagration.

My friend Nora heard a Buddhist at the Jung Center report that Jung held that God is chance. Well, in truth the poor excuse for chess — though now that I know it's singing Bach, I resolve to do better — that Ron and I play to keep from arguing about the meaning of words or more recently, compulsively repeating gory terrifying news items, in those days most definitely represented not much more than a game of chance. So perchance in this record of random thoughts reflecting the arbitrary moods of the weather coloring each day's chanced permutations of the pieces, you chanced on a kind of oracle that might point the way to a world of waterfalls for our water pistols. And by chance, on a stroke of luck, two other oracles sniffed it out and diverted the plan just to bury it in an earthenware jar or shoot it off into outer space. Cracking the code, though, will be a challenge.” —Veronika

veronika is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn. She was born and raised in Saint Louis and attended Bryn Mawr, R.I.S.D., and Columbia, receiving degrees in fine art architecture, and art history. She practiced architecture in New York for over a decade She has taught at Cooper Union, lectured at Washington University in Saint Louis, and published reviews in The Brooklyn Rail. Her drawings and paintings have been exhibited in galleries in Saint Louis and New York. While studying architecture, she spent many summers roaming around Rome, and later, on a graduate school grant, undertook research in the Vatican Library. Her open-ended art work including evocative, figurative paintings, as well as text scrawled watercolors, chases the shadows an epiphany flowering in the wake of a protracted, classic bout of Stendhal syndrome. After this experience, her scholarly work melted into a poetry and painting. She then met her chess partner, found a studio in Brooklyn, and eventually moved to a house whose backyard, then a trash dump, she transformed into an enchanted flowering forest and urban farm. Hopelessly confused by contemporary categories, she must hang for dear life on a hum in her hand.

KHORASHEH + GRUNERT is a curatorial platform by curator Mitra Khorasheh within Tanja Grunert Gallery that materializes from time to time at 524 West 19th Street, NY, and beyond. The project will be programmed by Khorasheh, whose curatorial work focuses on site-specific and performative practices, with an emphasis on the body in performance, painting and other time-based media.