From April 29, 2020, a correspondence between Candice Lin and Elena Narbutaitė, originally published as part of the booklet Memories of the Star (2017), available online as part of the program Windows (18 rue du Château).
The following letters were exchanged between the artists Candice Lin and Elena Narbutaitė during the course of several months in 2017. The connection feels evident: Elena is exhibiting work in Between Ears, New Colours (2020), while Candice participated in our exhibitions Le jour des esprits est notre nuit (2019) and Le couteau sans lame et dépourvu de manche (2019). When Elena first reached out to Candice, they were strangers meeting for the first time over email.
The text is filled with clues. Smells, images that might turn into new works, words echoing installations and open books in the studio. Clues as to lives lived in Altadena and Vilnius emerge via pick-up lines from an American movie and its central character, an actress by the name of Anna. By the end of the correspondence, Anna and (Elen)a have coalesced.
When Elena first heard of Candice, she misread the title of her short story Moles and Mice as Males and Mice. I misread it as Mols and Mice. Mols is the title of Elena’s new series of paper sculptures. Mols is a word we uttered insistently during the course of installing the show. It too is a clue.
These letters were first published in a booklet, Memories of the Star, on the occasion of Elena’s exhibition at CAC Vilnius, Prosperity (2017). We thank Candice & Elena for granting us the permission to publish them again, and Jean-François Caro for translating them into French.
Memories of the Star, a correspondence between Candice Lin and Elena Narbutaitė, introduced by Candice Lin.
The Elena encounter has bred little feral babies. Not this one, this human pig corp pre-existed her and no, it’s not really satirical, though maybe there is a future for Orwellian Animal Farm porn. But she writes to me so much of men and of women and of horses that I think sometimes she is my wife and we are married but then today I just got an email from her that it is all ending and I am devastated. She tells me to wait until the fall for the final question or answer and I feel a blanket of lead. I had even thought I enjoyed writing pornographic emails so much that I could have a financial future. A small niche one, for sure, but a future, no less. And now it is all crumbling.
I’m sorry, Wednesday is dramatic because it has been all full of black walnuts, and Lucinda Williams, and Gillian Welch and their soft country ways. I got your pdf and its mysterious blank space. I’m happy to be in that ether with you.
What do you do?
Do you have a car?
What kind of car?
Where do you live?
What is the difference between letters and books?
Are you married?
So, Anna (let’s say you are Anna) can I call you Anna?
Dear Candice, how are you?
I am thrilled to write you. I once asked Raimundas if he knew someone who I didn’t, for a short interview I had in mind, and he shared your email. For that reason of you being ‘unknown’, I am so happy that we never met! My name is Elena Narbutaite.
Some time ago I overheard a conversation and wrote some of it down. Since then, I am dying to hear the answers to it. If you are interested to answer those questions? I would be enormously happy to read them.
I must tell you, that I know you through two beautiful and sharp texts. One read by Doa Aly and the other one called Moles and Mice (which I misread the first time and thought it was called Males and Mice!) I like to read or listen to them from time to time, in this way Males become more like Moles and many more very interesting things happen.
I would love to print this interview, if we make it, as part of a small publication, which might come out this summer. More like a brochure, or a notebook.
But if this blind conversation doesn’t interest you, it’s also alright, not a problem at all. I hope to get to meet you one day either way!
sending my best wishes from Vilnius
Hello dear Elena,
My apologies for my slow reply, I’ve been very busy lately.
I think it would be fun to write each other, but tell me, why did this eavesdropped conversation so pique your interest? It seems so banal, no? But maybe the banality was what was so interesting to you… for the ways it might generate whole other worlds? Tell me more please.
Hi dear Candice,
Thank you for writing back to me, giving your time and asking a good question. This letter might get long—there is no rush in answering and I will try to explain myself better.
I guess this simple conversation interested me for exactly the reason you mention—its banal simplicity and where it could lead to.
I understood and recognised the nature of those questions; usually a conversation between two or three people, who have just met and are trying to get information about each other, brutally, urgently, quickly. It might seem that such conversations are not revealing anything useful. But suddenly I found the opposite. I saw them as a knife that can quickly cut through each other’s lives, social status, etc. You know? Let’s say a man meets another man or a woman and they need something from each other, but know nothing about each other and only this basic information will inform the next steps and next series of doubts or agreements between them.
I saw such a conversation as a quick measuring device, especially in the case of a blind date.
And so I myself became suddenly curious to experience this simple situation with someone. A conversation like that is actually a situation that almost doesn’t happen anymore, it used to when I was 16 years old, I think.
And then I thought it could be interesting to re-experience it with someone whom I don’t really know. Now I start to think that it works. When I read your answer, I felt a bit lost at first and then happy, for it became obvious that this was not going to be all easy; just following my silly questions straight away.
I could say it’s more complicated than all that, but the reasons are quite simple, though there are many. Well, especially the fact that these questions are born out of established, sometimes even conservative, values within societies, that’s what really interested me and made me curious about the answers. Because the answers might tear those establishments apart and change them. Let’s say a question about cars. I am really curious if you have a car? And then I am curious to know what you think about it or if you think about it at all?
I didn’t actually overhear this conversation in a real life, though it might be easy in bars and parks. Instead, I took the conversation from this movie All the Vermeers in New York. There is a scene where two young women meet up with a man at a bar and have a conversation.
Maybe you know this movie?
It could be so interesting to try out our conversation and I could start with just a single question: where do you live?
Maybe by talking, we’ll invent something new
sending my best!
If, for example, I were in such a way that you slowly under- stood that I was not a woman, brutally, urgently, quickly, through unwomanly gestures, I wonder if you would continue to write to me. [My contractor had an avatar self that was a 30-something lesbian who alternately wore full metal armor and a furry suit. ‘No one suspects who I really am’, he claimed, but he did not seem to question the possibility that the women he had sex with online were also women just like himself.]
I was going to send you my Human Pig Corporation. But it is so disgusting and foul I thought you would find out too soon, too brutally, too quickly, although perhaps with shared urgency. It did have a banality that made its violence effective I believe. But your stranger hood makes me both shy and bold. There is nothing to lose, but no trust established. A strange openness to any possibility.
In my car I sometimes imagine I’m in the car that’s in a book (—a failure of a book, many might say but I have defended its populist bent) (I could pretend this happened in my car, as you pretended to overhear the conversation that was actually a movie, but I’ll be more straightforward with you to speed things along. So… this didn’t happen in my car but in a book that described a car ride)—here’s a passage that stayed with me. About animal husbandry. The writer overhears people sharing an Uber ride as they discuss their jobs masturbating the horses and helping to guide the ones with the penises into the right holes. ‘Do they need that kind of assistance?’ the writer asks in shock and then is instantly shamed at their heteronormative assumptions, they themselves, the biggest career queer ever, perhaps. ‘You’d be surprised how often it ends up in the ass,’ explains the worker, ‘and there’s all this waste.’
I live in Los Angeles in Altadena, which is east of east LA and north of Pasadena. It’s pretty here although perhaps not in the way you might expect and there are flocks of green parrots that come whenever the mornings are overcast and they wake me with their loud squawking outside my window. But lately it has not been overcast.
Thank you. If it becomes clear, I will continue writing to you, even if I feel afraid of myself as well as of you. Strange fright will be my driver.
Your passage from the car stayed with me; (I danced for hours in an empty jewelry box). Going home I suddenly wondered ‘what would need to happen in order to shake me very strongly?’ Without time to think, the image of a horse appeared in my mind. I had to ride it. Inside my mind, I imagined a scene where the horse was speeding up and becoming wild. I don’t know how to ride a horse. Do you know how?
The task was, to embrace the state of shaking and stay on it. Only later do I realise, where the horse image came from.
Much later, that evening I ended the passage of a book I was reading with these words ‘They were erect; the horses were twitching their flanks.’ It is by the end of a scene where a man and a woman almost make love. It stays unclear if they do.
Some people would say that horses and cars, are a logical sequence, but I see it another way. Workers’ conversations are splashed with a strong sensation of smell. Imagined only. I wonder maybe the writer was in shock about himself?
Did you notice that facts rarely shock, but compositions of things are the ones that make a difference? It’s probably obvious. In this case I imagine four men in one new car and horses in the air. I can vaguely hear the motors and other sounds and imagine that it’s evening. But I can’t make any resolution other than, despite being in the same car, everyone’s going their own way.
I am sending you an image of how I picture you all of a sudden. You, pointing at your kingdoms. I found this picture in a drawer at my mum’s home after reading your answer, which made parts of me feel brighter than the daylight, in an electrical kind of way. What is Human Pig Corporation? Maybe you could tell me in a few words? Even though I don’t recall memories often, you made me feel 15 years old for the moment I opened your letter. When I was that age, I remember thinking that men or women seemed to be like liquid ponds, holding colors of paint mixed in them, moved not by clear definitions, but by the wind, and wind always gave me a thrill. Now I think that was the way by which you came in, by the wind. How else could I explain it?
Is it often windy in Los Angeles in Altadena, where you live?
I wonder what you do, if you are married or not?
I will always picture you as a horse now until you replace that image with a human form in the flesh. I have many horse histories, some kingdoms were made of BPA-free plastic and others that were washed in the sea, in Brazil, and came running up to me as if to run me down, but then, stopped short and snorted in my face. Another one entered a church from the 1500s that had a tree growing over it and, I kid you not, he had an enormous hard on. I think he was into my beard. I have the documentation to prove it.
The smell of a worker would be a good perfume that an artist can wear. The artist is always so torn, so romantic, so over-washed in their concerns for the worker. I say my writing to you is unworking, but then, if you make a little booklet and it makes its way into the world, is it working too? Coat it in the smell.
I like to talk about men, and that was one thing that struck me about your emails. It’s funny that you wrote me about liquid ponds because I was just writing someone about Ran-Ma, a cartoon she would watch, where the characters—a father and son—get transformed into a panda and a well-endowed little girl by falling in pools of water—cursed water from China. My juice, in other words (possibly has the power to change your species or gender).
When I was little and I began masturbating by drawing while laying on my bed and humping my pillow (still my preferred method), I told a repetitive story about Shirley Temple, wolves, diamond moun- tains, Swiss Family Robinson, and a witch. In this story, there was (among many other aspects) a witch who turned men into wolves by putting fiddlesticks and other ingredients in her vagina and having sex with them. Her liquid pools ran deep and had similar transformative powers as the wind on your water. But does wind disturb beyond the surface? It’s magnetic pull that creates waves, no? Not wind I think. Sometimes they say the Santa Ana winds blow across my neighborhood so hard that you can’t put up a fence that doesn’t have holes in it. So in my neighborhood there are only fences with holes, which seems self-defeating in some ways, although it works in others. Otherwise a solid fence would create too much air resistance and would become weaponised in its uprooting, and might hurt someone down the street at 100rpm. (That’s not the correct speed.) How far does your wind move you? Tell me about Vilnius please.
Funny that you ask if I am married. I just had a long sad talk with Ran-Ma-(non)-friend and we decided we can no longer do ‘this’ because I am ostensibly ‘married’. I don’t agree on the direction this conversation went. It might be more about a callous around my heart, an ability to distance myself from my feelings, than a state of common law marriage that is not recognised in the state of California anyways.
And you? Are you attached? In what way?
Something just happened. Someone came to sit for a second at this cafe where I came to write to you (I ran out of coffee at home.) Here, I joined a long table, it still feels like morning, sunny! While I was typing about something still unclear to you, a man came and sat in front of me to have his coffee. I hadn’t even looked up at him, but suddenly felt something strong flowing in my knees, hands, neck and lips. At some point I leaned on my elbow, a bit closer to him—as he was holding his cup his hand was very close to my face. You know when each hair on your face vibrates in miniature ways? It felt so pleasurable—the state of being locked in this dizziness lasted for maybe three minutes. I looked at him briefly; he had turtle nose and big ring on one of his fingers, the ring was the closest thing to my eyes. A ring is an attractive thing and it’s the first time in my life that I became aware of this so clearly.
So, at this moment I was trying to re-read your answer, and I was at the part where a horse came running, stopped short and snorted in your face. I loved this situation. You know why? It contains so much joy. In this and the following scene you and the horse both seem to me like such ancient beings, experiencing things that come along. Both relaxed by time. The horse that loses his memory and you, who made memory much less troublesome. There is the sound of laughter. Some history here became fresh. You know what else stands out? Your hands. They make me think of water and soap. Thanks for the second idea about the smell.
It’s amazing, I must read you at least five times and only then am I able to understand the small things and the bridges between my questions and your answers. That’s probably why I take time to write back, even though I’d like to reply much quicker. Must be my English too. And your speed and age. I think you are around 1500 years old, but come out fresh like every new day, every single day. I would like to imagine what it feels like. Talking to you gives me at least a little hint. Its unworking feels very young, or how else could I describe it? I would love to see it in a small booklet.
I am sending you this part without an ending and the second part will come in soon.
It’s snowing now, through my window I can see water and snowflakes dripping and flying to the right at high speed. The wind started yesterday, while it was warm and sunny, it was kind of maddening, dry with dust and with the mood of a rake. Today it turned into this tale of April. It falls on young leaves and melts as soon as it touches the ground. I see in the distance one tree glowing in the light of street lamp, like magic. Makes me want to go out with an umbrella and smoke a cigarette, but there is also resistance to do so. It often happens in Vilnius, especially at this time of the year, when early summery weather one night becomes beating wind, rain, and even snow, like tonight.
Snowflakes in spring are special, they are different from winter snow. They are light and fragile, much fluffier, big and shapeless. When you look at them, you see they are not real anymore. They soon melt and become water and then become muddy water, because Vilnius has a lot of dark mud on the ground. It’s a city where your nails get dirty in half a day.
A friend, with whom I often meet, just texted a lovely portrait of me, although we didn’t meet today: ‘Yes, like a herring, tummy shimmers in the dark, eyes spark and blink’ fish evening. I have never been married, but have been interested in marriage, since a young age. It triggered my curiosity, made me cry sometimes. Others’ lives produced feelings inside my heart—as a child, I would stare at married people’s lives.
Relationships feel so delicate to me, that sometimes I think I forget to take part in them and continue staring. It’s exiting, scary and unclear at the same time, flattering to see someone spin almost freely. You made me realise that I haven’t experienced deep sadness around my heart for some time now, when you used the word ‘sad’. And when you wrote about Ran-Ma, I could suddenly imagine you in your house. Interesting—it suddenly made space for everything.
Another friend just wrote now, that it would be nice to create free space. Your space feels free now, there is a character in your writing probably in you as well that enjoys time. That makes me think about the ending of our conversation Part 1. Just to give time a chance. Would you be up for continuing Part 2 sometime, towards the autumn? I think I already know where it could go.
And now, which questions have I still left from the very beginning? Anna already came in. Your speed is surprising!
Ach, there is one more, the last: What is the difference between letters and books?
with Vilnius love,
I am so surprised and saddened by the quick end to our intimacy. I suppose it began to disintegrate when we started to reveal our attachments to other beings—horses, fish, rings in coffee shops. You see, I had started to think that you were my wife. So quick, I know, to fall into the fantasy. But perhaps I am domestic at heart and non-monogamy only works under the illusion of singularity. I want to argue it’s not an illusion but points isolated in space. If we are quanta, why is it so hard to resist comparing? You are not like my husband, not like my lover, and yet stranger I am also picturing you with your silver belly, flopping in the mud. Have you read about herring in Sebald’s Rings of Saturn? How they lived and died, how their bodies piled up following a description—implied—of the Holocaust, and how science clipped little rings into their noses that went on to tag their movements which could no longer be lost in the vastness of the sea. It is almost too literal to show you the picture from his book. But tragedy makes me direct and plain.
A ring to me could never be a beautiful thing.
You are not a book like Little Women or even a story, The Woman Who Rode Away that I can return to at my leisure, curled up on the couch. I cannot half-forget you and then return to enjoy the description of your dark ‘primitive’ eyes, your inscrutable language. You choose or choose not to reply.
You say, wait until the fall for my return. I may or may not. I probably will.
But my waiting will not be like a book on a shelf.
I am picturing your dirty nails as you chew on them abstractedly. Is that you in the picture with the hair blowing in your face, like a young version of the woman in La Jetée? Or are you turned away? You two are like explorers, looking at the setting sun, looking at the wrapped river like a Christo present when all the water runs dry.
I didn’t mean to sadden you, but felt it could happen. I actually sadden myself just the same. Once I had sent you the letter I thought, wow—I was under the illusion that we had been talking for years. I have the strange feeling of long passages of time in you. Maybe it’s something that, as one of my friends says, lives behind peoples’ backs? Something about your back radiates, without being conscious of it—that back affected me so much.
So, this sadness was something tempting and it’s probably like your revenge to say I am chewing on my nails, I think I never do. but I know how it feels on the tooth.
I probably decided that it’s about time to start ending, or suspend- ing our letters, for it felt like pouring rain, so intense. In such a short time, I suddenly experienced a metallic, yet very warm journey with you. Things of men woman and horses were pulled from unknown places. They are much brighter and part of life since meeting you.
And later, I will write to you again, without the expectation to find the same Candice—you are not a book. Although I’d love to read the book written by you.
Must go out now, time’s so short these days and writing to you is one of my favorite almost illegal activities.
I will come back soon, to touch on herring and few more things inside that photo.
Almost raining outside x soon
No, I haven’t read Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, I will, in June, when this book will be out.
It will be the perfect time to feel something spinning free.
Just now I saw that you called me Elen at the beginning of your letter. Some of my close family used to call me by that name without the ending when I would do something wrong.
There was also a friend, who used to constantly repeat this line from a fairy tale;
‘Elen Elen, look, let’s go to swim, one river flows in milk, another boils in blood’... Suddenly I read your entrance into the letter and remembered all this!
It’s like the song of spring, when everything is ahead and imperfect for a moment.
I took that picture myself of my sister, my cousin (probably the one that looks like a young version of the woman from La Jetée) and two friends Dalia and Ieva. We went on an expedition by foot to a small Georgian restaurant, far outside the city centre. It was so windy. I think I wrote back to you one night after that. It was the last warm day till now. And ‘non-monogamy only works under the illusion of singularity’, that’s probably how it is. In my case it’s probably reversed, singularity only works under the illusion of non-monogamy. I feel, that the mind as a transparent membrane is often able to isolate things one from each other and keep illusions so real even if aware (maybe I never thought it was an illusion, it might be real). I think that it’s attention as well, which makes things appear, which separates and connects them, like loves and journeys. But they sometimes don’t connect and then I am gonna miss your letters.
You are right, we reached some place which beats back as too known.
Till sometime soon
How strange to find this letter you wrote (I would say, to me, if I were brave) in 2013. This often happens where a loop in time becomes creased. It is my back you see, sitting at the table, radiating history. We have already established the animality of my legs. Sometimes my neighbour, who collects metal junk for a living, throws it between trucks beds in the morning when I’m eating my breakfast and the ringing, vibratory, clanging sounds of metal and his instructive voice are pieces of what I’m eating. Like gravel in the eggs. He used to have shouted conversations with me whenever he saw me at the kitchen window, washing the dishes. I had to tell him, ‘good neighbours sometimes look the other way.’ He was deeply offended and muttered to himself, ‘I don’t agree, I don’t agree’ but I noticed as he muttered, he looked away.
When I read the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in high school, I remembered not the crack of light that came friendly under the door, but instead these three black men who replaced my Proustian mother. They would sing to me in soft voices and with small, stringed instruments like the mandolin and I learned later that they were tied to my past through some kind of memory from a Brazilian plantation. I saw the tree in shadow that crawled with the shadows of people and animals buried inside it. I saw the colonial balustrade that they launched their bodies over rather than be caught and punished, bodies that went splat on the concrete like the ripe mangoes that fell outside my window. I dreamed them as a child in Portland, Oregon, but I met them again and understood their location in history when I was on the island of horses that I already spoke to you about.
In my last email, I called you a, not Elen. Elen was in the parenthetical so that a could be A for Alpha as in the Alpha-Omega that is spelled out in sugared biscuits in a Dutch still life painting: the edible, sweet-passing representation of a life from its beginning to its end. And A for Anna, who I have begun to think is the other woman, who whispers to the speaking woman and is supposedly translated into audible sound waves by her. But it’s equally possible that the speaking woman only pretends to listen to the softly laughing Anna, and then says whatever she would like to the man, who bends slightly in rapturous anticipation.
But I like the song your friend would sing you, and I wonder which river you would swim in, the one of milk or the one of boiling blood? How strange that in 2013 you knew that sea would be on my mind now. Earlier this month, in planning a show for later this fall, the curator asked me, ‘why the liquid, the piss?’ (the proposal involves a sprinkler system of distilled urine and river water that hydrates a room made of unfired porcelain). And I wrote her back this email, which now seems strangely to be a response to the one you wrote in 2013. I send it to you here because it seems we write to each other even when we are writing to others. Speaking through Anna. Or of her.
I guess you are, in that way at least, mediated, like a book, even if it’s one I can’t return (to).
You blow my mind. Ach, so many things are on my mind now! Anna is here today.
Thank you for letting me read your letter ‘why piss’. I was asking another person, if he had ever written about salty waters, but it’s you who is inside there. You could sense it.
I attach another kind, Proust’s search for comfort maybe? But not at all completely naive, maybe just curled in words, his text The Sea. There are such opposite things in yours and his words, but they seem like brothers too for all the mistakes and truths inside things. The Sea will enter the book as well, just to swing the reader. It swings me. Which river would I swim in? I think both rivers might be deceptive, blood might be less tricky. If I stopped believing I would stop swimming.
In the story, milk meant that my nine brothers were alive, blood meant that they were dead. I think they are separated only to fool the sister.
I imagined that if I stepped inside the milk, blood might mix in. Which could be beautiful and too similar to life, they just make each other brighter? Not only that I guess.
At the end of my story, you came out like a donkey, I will show you soon how the whole thing looks.
Walking with your liquid trips in head.
Till the fall from this side.
The 7 images associated with these letters are:
1. Memories of the Star, front cover. Designed by Vytautas Volbekas from a photograph of an egg by Darius Petrulaitis.
2. Rosalind Nashashibi, Dust, 2017. Painting no longer in existence.
3. Dalia Dūdėnaitė’s photo album.
4. Elena Narbutaitė's photo album.
5. Egg photographed by Darius Petrulaitis.
6. Elena Narbutaitė's photo album.
7. Candice Lin's photo album.