I first became acquainted with Evan’s work on Twitter. A short video: just a set of hands constructing Mike Corrao’s SELFFUCK chapbook Avian Funeral March. Pages collected, folded, aligned, pressed. Edges cut, again, cut again, again, aligned. Sticker there to the front. Then it loops. And I watched it over and over. Really compelling, mundane, bookmaking ASMR.
Collect, fold, align, press, cut, cut, cut.
It is a really amazing document of the tactile process of individual care and attention to handmade chapbooks. At the same time, the short looped video is an ideal distribution device for social media and digital networks.
This simultaneous approach holds the tension felt in Isoline’s poetics: the digital and analog, the singular and repetitive, the careful and violent. Not opposites, but divergent activities taken on simultaneously.
His recent book, Philosophy of the Sky, continues to excavate these spaces through blur and rupture.
Philosophy of the Sky is a fragmented deicide, distorted by noise and blue light. Navigating architectural blueprint glitches into textual voids. Cavernous rooms for repetitive sacrifice and divine silence. Florescence and perfumes of death. Codexical-cartography, flickering-pixels, pulsing with electric-anxieties and seductive death cults / images of deserts and death and everything and god, all blur into the sky.
Jake Reber: I’m super interested in all the peripheral activities—all the mundane routines and rituals that accompany the writing process & spaces in which writing emerges. Do you have any practices that occur alongside or adjacent to writing itself? Does your environment bleed into the work? How do these other nodes relate to your writing process?
Evan Isoline: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Jake! I’m excited that process, ritual, technicality etc. are subjects you’d like to begin to explore. As an admirer of your work, I can imagine you relate to these subjects a lot as well. A basic reaction to these questions would be to address the fact that process and ritual are very important to me in the act of writing. Sometimes it can be difficult for me to feel that a piece of my writing (or even someone else’s) is capable of arriving at or existing in a “finished” state; that is, inhabiting a static form outside of process that’s no longer subject to change or manipulation. Especially outside of the realm of ritual focus and intention.
I have a background in visual art and taking courses in oil painting early on really helped me to understand this in a disciplinary kind of way. I ruined or overworked every oil painting I attempted. But this taught me something important: that destroying or overworking one’s art can be a very valuable and necessary part of the process. Especially once you know what kind of effects you are looking for. For around 6 years I worked in printmaking, particularly fine art editions of etchings. Repetition, the multiple and the hand-made edition are still a very big part of how I think creatively.
By any chance are you familiar with the 1956 film The Mystery of Picasso directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot? At one point I was shown this in school. The film depicts Pablo Picasso painting images on glass plates from the viewpoint of the camera, gradually moving from simple marker drawings in black and white, to larger scale collages and oil paintings. As the subjects morph and change it feels like a painting of infinity. When I was younger seeing this blew me away. Not Picasso’s imagery or character in particular, but the idea of getting paintings to do something they normally don’t do—to get paintings to act unlike themselves. So many images were lost or destroyed along the way to make way for new ones. It carried with it a temporality and solemn intentionality like the Tibetan Buddhist Sand Mandala.
Currently, writing has taken precedence for me but drawing, design, and the hand-making of booklets/zines are creative activities that coincide with writing. These activities help me to imagine the potential for what a raw piece of text might become, or even how it could be presented or disseminated. Other activities that coincide with writing are reading, watching films, collecting physical and digital images, listening to music, making short films on my phone, moving through open landscapes vs. inhabiting claustrophobic interiors etc. I’ve done many experiments in the past involving methodological constraints that would be done prior to writing with the intention of it affecting the outcome in some way. Staying awake for 2-3 days, fasting, mushrooms, lsd, dmt, yoga nidra, meditation, binaural noise etc. This felt like a natural progression from exquisite corpse, cut-ups etc. I write a lot on my phone. My average daily screen time is fucked up. I write outdoors and even in public places. Research plays a very important role in writing for me. As I write I research often on the internet and also in books. I love dictionaries, thesauruses and old glossaries. Machine learning is interesting in potentially revealing how AIs can mimic human neural processes by associating and deciding on word pairings based on an input source.
In terms of ritual, I like the idea of free-association as an alchemical act or a form of chaos magic. Free-association as a kind of psychoactive unification or re-circuitry where disparate subjects begin to relate together in unforeseen ways.
Sometimes it feels very necessary for me to write in a cluttered and overstimulating environment, while other times it feels right to be in a completely silent and darkened place. For instance, I get extreme anxiety in crowded places such as supermarkets. I’ve had panic attacks and even blacked out in a store once. But if I take a minute and begin writing on my phone in this situation I find I am able to transmute the anxiety to some extent. It seems very likely to me that the ambience of the environment in which one creates would have a tangible influence on the thing created, and in that sense, the possibilities for conditioning the creative process seem boundless.
JR: Oh I haven’t seen that Picasso film! But I love your description of a painting of infinity. I’m often thinking about the infinite—at least temporally—as the endless stretch out towards a neverending future, but it also moves towards the endless past—and all as extensions of a perpetual present. The process you’re discussing with Picasso is incredibly fascinating to imagine, where the past sketches, early images, first attempts still remain in the layered final version. The past traces are all present, even as they’re obscured by the sense layering. This feels like a useful way to think of your process work as well—operating in a cluttered or chaotic space, revealing process in the printed version, allowing the frayed edges of the page to show.
You mentioned open books beside you will writing. Who were some of the writers sitting around that slipped into your book? What about other artists and influences were felt while working? How does the act of reading itself relate to your writing process?
EI: Yeah, I like the idea of the future and past not being finite and relating to each other through the concept you bring up of the perpetual present. In the film of Picasso, if I remember correctly, the image of the painting changes in real time as he paints, so the first attempts and past traces of the painting are totally lost in most cases as he subtracts, adds, and changes things. Though I suspect that you’re right in terms of each movement or mark in some way affecting the next movement, or leaving a trace of itself, and in turn being an integral part of the “painting” as a whole, which would be difficult to define in a traditional sense.
Once I took a philosophy class on Aesthetics and the reputable elderly professor had quite a profound way of introducing the subject on the first day. I remember the first thing he did was introduce the concept of the class by playing a fragment of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. He proceeded by asking the class the question: “What is Beethoven’s 9th symphony?” Is it a video on the internet, a cd, a radio broadcast? Is it one (or all) of its innumerable reproductions in the classical music repertoire? Is it Beethoven himself conducting an iteration of the symphony in an early, middle, or late period of his career? Is the 9th symphony something he heard in his head one day or an event that inspired it from his childhood?
This really got me thinking that a work of art was more multidimensional than I had thought. More importantly, it opened the door for obsessive empirical thinking surrounding nature and representation. I think it would be hard to say how much process is actually apparent in the final book-form of POTS due to how varied the techniques were in writing it. I think in a way it can be sensed. I wanted to present a contrast between the flat, cold, mechanical parts of myself and the very raw, organic emotional parts. Also inherent to the process was the asphyxiating layer of social anxiety, despair, and uncertainty in the air that had accumulated by the summer and fall of 2019. It’s strange to look back to that time, not knowing then what was to come in early 2020.
In terms of influential books at the time there was a storm of them around me. During this period I read William Gibson’s NEUROMANCER for the first time, Hakim Bey’s T.A.Z. was recommended to me, I revisited a book on Futurist theatre design and many ACEPHALE documents and letters. I continued studies on Yves Klein, Paul Thek and work of the Viennese Actionists. Hugely inspiring somewhere in that year was first reading EVER by Blake Butler. In a rejection letter from a (very considerate/informative) literary journal, an editor specifically recommended I look up M. Kitchell’s work from Inside The Castle which I had been totally unaware of. Things were hitting my brain in a g-force kind of way and it felt like I was seeing patterns emerge. I was thinking about horror movie aesthetics, diving deep into obscure online dream forums, printing things off on The Kabbalah and Object oriented ontology. I re-read FOR A NEW NOVEL by ROBBE-GRILLET before beginning POTS. There was an element of masculinity in many of these materials that I consciously wanted to explore and confront as well. I had become interested in interrogating the generalization of the work of art as an “object” or as an expression of sacred masculine experience. For me, reading is a visual experience and ultimately opens the potential for writing (or performing/exhibiting) and vice versa. There were many other books as well. Sometimes I have 10-20 going at once. Other times I can’t read at all. I open to the first page and the letters don’t even make sense.
JR: I love the chaotic swirl of texts that fed into this book. I feel that they all appear in slightly warped or distorted forms. Your book is this highly constructed space that seems particularly attentive to the relations between different structures or dimensions of the book. It seems like some of your process manifests as this high attention to constructing assembling and (re)wiring the text. The book becomes a technological device for constructing new worlds. And your writing tends to proliferate these new possibilities.
Even as I write out questions, I find myself wanting to move and explore different layers of the text simultaneously. In Part 1, there is this layering effect that happens in the construction of the room: Drawings, paintings, projections, images, shadows, cubes and orbs, etc.
It’s totally (visually) grounding & completely disorienting—really raw and tactile, while sustaining something quite abstract & airy.
They oscillate between feeling like zones to dwell in & artificial stages for ideas and performances to be enacted. It almost feels like an impossible performance score that’s been filmed and shown in split screen.
Does this sense simultaneity resonate with you? How did you assemble these performances/installations/rooms/parts?
EI: Throughout the process of writing the manuscript I began hand-writing or printing everything and collecting it in a large 3-ring binder. This helped me to imagine the book in 3D and how things would fit together proportionally. When you’re writing something with the dimension of the page in your mind, or especially thinking about the book in a geometric or spatial kind of way, I think it must affect how the text is constructed. Making zines was really helpful in building up to this larger form. It’s really interesting to think about a book in terms of being a technological device. I like thinking about the book as an extension of the body, or the body as an extension of the book. In either case, the body as the original technology. I had thought of POTS periodically as a kind of thinking artifact or inanimate object gaining sentience.
I definitely resonate with the ideas you bring up here. These zones, rooms or stages I constructed as I went, precisely to inhabit in a performative and provisional kind of way. This ambiguous “I” moving through visual or emotional geometries.
JR: I really love the idea of using a 3-ring binder. It seems like binders always have pages falling out, shuffling around, reordering, etc. Does this play into the compiling process? Do spatial relations or new proximities made possible in this soft version of binding the text shift as it congeals into the final & fixed-spine book?
I also can see this sort of play between mediums within the text. At times it almost feels like certain forms are cannibalizing others, not just borrowing but fully incorporating & then consuming? How do the particularities of the book work against/alongside/in relation to other mediums & art making processes?
EI: Interesting, no this particular binder was sturdy but did allow me the basic ability to move things around with ease and visualize the physical thing in a kind of soft version as you say. The purpose was to build things out and create flow, and most of the chance-based experimentation happened in other places.
Mastication/Oral fixation is a fairly large thematic element in the book and I suppose it could be the case that this is mirrored in the way the text seems to cannibalize or feed into itself.
The “I” voice is mine but in some cases has also been subjected to a large amount of corruption, static, glitch, remix what-have-you. The ‘I’ expresses itself desperately like a mime, a child or Oedipal archetype. The repetitive, peristaltic motion of word-forms was how I categorically structured things in relation to others. Again, I have anxiety that arrives like a deluge, so repetition is grounding and stimulating on many levels for me. I was interested in sublimating visual, symbolic experience; just like painting or filmmaking would—only it is important that it is a book, that it comes back to or plays with the idea of literary narrative, authorship, poetic desire etc. I really liked thinking about a book that dreamt it was a movie. Or a book that believed it was something else entirely.
I thought about the idea of using much less text and incorporating photographs, images and symbols but went a different direction early on. I like the intoxicating rhythms and historical currents that language possesses. I like being buried in language.
JR: It’s clear that the language is contorting & doing a lot of work (& play!). That last phrase seems to charge the words on the page with a certain plasticity or malleability. What exactly did you want to do with words themselves?
This might be a dumb question, but it seems like you’re thinking about language in a really interesting way that extends beyond the more obvious modes of communication or storytelling or converting thoughts to the page.
EI: That’s great that some of these things were apparent to you. Plasticity and malleability are qualities that I think words have inherently, like bodies. As is fairly obvious, words have an organic, genealogical nature (I’ve heard them called “thought fossils”) as well as mechanical recombinant abilities. I wanted to explore symbolic and visual potentials through writing and find curious ways through the prose/poetry binary. POTS has a Rimbaud epigraph that is meant to set the tone for this type of delirious navigation or dislocation from ground/landscape.
I think “converting thoughts to the page” is a great way to frame a more conventional literary approach. I wanted there to be multiple things happening at once. There’s so much happening in the brain as images inspire words and words inspire images. Memories. Fantasies. Dreads. Sometimes whole environments or stories unfold. This is an area I’d like to continue to explore. Association, performance, impulse, emotion and obsession. Detail. Maybe its like hyperminutia. But maybe a small detail is a symbol of something much much more significant and macrocosmic. Maybe it’s all taking place in microtubules or the brain’s darker uncharted tissues. With POTS I wanted to at least leave some of that activity raw like a rough sketch or neural map, while giving other sections more conventional structure or refinement.
JR: This sorta shifts the conversation a bit, but I love the fluidity of language, blurring sea & sky—a watery, airy zone of repetition across the text. [Neither space seems to fully form into anything concrete, even when populated by creatures. The both can be seen as earthly limits or rough edges & as nexus points: the visible ocean is between land & the deep; the sky is between land & outer space. I love the ways in which the various framings entirely reconstruct the operations of these environments.]
I also love the rapid scene changes to grubby/seedy motels & fleshy bodyscapes. As a text that seems incredibly focused on developing specific environments, I’d love to hear more about their construction and lingering connotations/relations you might have with these spaces.
EI: Thanks alot for the kind words. It’s funny that you bring up zones once again, or these spaces with certain boundaries and systems of logic. Particularly one that is “watery and airy”. Over time I‘ve found that what and how I write is very related to where I am writing it down. As you said, this text had a lot to do with understanding my immediate environment and location. These locations were conceived not only from being present in physical places but relied heavily on research, memories of past experiences and dreams as well. In recent years I‘ve spent considerable time writing near the ocean, as well as in the mountains and the desert. This has most definitely affected my ideas and the work I’m interested in.
JR: What are you working on now? What kind of afterlife do you imagine for POTS?
EI: Over the past year or so I’ve been working on my second book, which moves in the tone of experimental historical monologues and echolalia utilizing design elements in the vein of Bauhaus, Swiss typography and Russian constructivist design. This new book I have been describing as “Geometrized Historico-Mysticism’. This work feels like a natural progression from POTS. In terms of an afterlife for the book, I intentionally didn’t build expectations regarding its existence upon release, as it was my first. Personally, I care much less about art that aims for audience, financial gain or generalized emotional response. It’s been interesting and exciting to see certain reactions to the book but most of my energy is centered on how POTS might propel me into new ways of interacting with language.
Evan Isoline is a writer and artist living on the Oregon coast. He is the author of Philosophy of the Sky and the founder/editor of a literary project called SELFFUCK. Find him @evan_isoline
Jake Reber is a writer and artist. He is a co-curator of Hysterically Real and an editor for Recreational Resources. He has published several artist books and experimental projects, including Invasive Species (Void Front Press, 2019), Bureaucratic Topologies (Gauss-PDF, 2018), and Lobster Genesis (Orworse Press, 2016), among others. His newest book, ZER000 EXCESS was released in 2020 with 11:11 Press.