Week 04 / Nov 5 – 9

Word bites picture

Katya Tylevich


About the project

‘Word bites picture’ draws from my work writing about art and architecture, but subverts the idea of expository writing. For the project, I ask an artist, photographer or architect to send me an image he or she has created. In response to that image, I write a 500-word short fiction story. During my five-day residency, I will create at least one short story a day in response to one respective image. Each day, one more ‘companion work’ will join others on the wall of theresidency space, so that the works of fiction act as abstract captions to the images. Though not exactly an exquisite corpse, the spontaneous energy of the project is similar. Viewers will likely find their brains trying to make sense of the resulting art-fiction creatures. It’s necessary for these modular pieces to exist in a public space, so that they can assemble into a whole and face different interpretations. The project further addresses the cannibalism of all art, literature, and architecture: new movements do not exist without predecessors, which isn’t to say that the results aren’t entirely original. Among the people submitting images for the ‘Word bites picture’ -project are artist Michaël Borremans and Vito Acconci.

-Katya Tylevich


About the artist

Katya Tylevich is an arts, architecture and design journalist based in Los Angeles. She is Editor-at-Large for arts journal Elephant, Contributing Editor for architecture magazine MARK and art journal White Zinfandel, and frequent contributor to magazines like Domus, Pin-up and FRAME. Recently, Katya wrote the text for photographer Todd Hido’s book Excerpts From Silver Meadows, published by Nazraeli Press. Her interviews and essays appear in books like Pin-Up: Interviews, published by powerHouse Books, and Operations In Populated Areas, which accompanies an exhibition of the same name at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Wrocław. She has essays on Brutalism and Postmodernism forthcoming in a Thames & Hudson book on architecture, and her short fiction story, ‘Sustained Release,’ written in response to three paintings by Michaël Borremans, will be published in the artist’s catalog, As sweet as it gets, from Hatje Cantz in February 2014. Currently, Katya is working on a book for Laurence King Publishing, which examines contemporary artworks in unexpected ways, to be published in 2015. Together with her brother, Alexei, Katya is co-founder of Friend & Colleague, a company producing original content and art projects. She was born in Minsk, Belarus and runs a website called Happy Nothing.




Boa constricted.

by Katya Tylevich


Michaël Borremans, The Hovering Wood, 2011. Oil on Canvas. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp. 


Our family was never very poor, but pretended to be, to keep the evil eye uninterested. Good health was met with knocks on wood. Bad health was welcomed like an irritating houseguest, with a begrudging hospitality. A long night’s sleep was considered suitable for cats and other indulged animals that had nine lives to waste — you know, on rapid eye movement.

The older generations in our home would point to various nocturnal creatures as fine examples of living things with proper work ethics. The daytime sleeping patterns of those animals were struck from record, in lectures meant to motivate and probably shame. I never felt humiliated, however. I was eager to follow instructions and to please, so I took the lectures at face value and tried to emulate those animals that I thought burned the midnight oil, like horseshoe crabs, rats, owls, and opossums.

In short order, my nighttime prowls grew quite intolerable for my family. What did me in, I think, were all the seed and peanut shells I’d left around the home. Also, the rustling I liked to do while everybody else was giving way to bodily weaknesses, shutting their eyes and drifting into apneas, paralyses and other forms of stinky human rest.

For those few nights that I had acted as a rodent, I’d crept around our single-family home, thinking of all the things I could accomplish in my extra waking hours. Mostly, I snacked and watched TV. As morning rolled around, I usually found myself blinking awake in front of the early news broadcast. Perhaps upon waking, I did feel humiliated, though nobody was up early enough to catch me in my disappointed state. I was disgusted by my personal failure to control my sleepy, weepy body, and its susceptibility to routine, and to gum disease, early-onset heartburn and probably, at some point, to some other sort of chronic pain.

My father told me that if my hot prowls were to continue, that in all fairness — literal man though he was, and head of a literal household (those were different times) — the family would have no choice but to treat me like a house animal and not a feral one, because I did, after all, live in their house and exterminating me was not an option. In other words, he said, they’d have to have me immunized and spayed or neutered. At that age, I had already had several vaccinations and was no pussy when it came to needles and blood. But I did have to look the latter threats up in a dictionary. I still resent you for that fucking joke, old man.

Then in an act entirely out of character, I screamed that, if that’s how they wanted it, then fine, then, fine, that I would turn myself in at an animal shelter so that a better family could adopt me there.



That may be memory playing tricks on me, actually. When and where this childhood took place, there were no shelters for used, abandoned animals, only streets and garbage dumps and alleyways and pounds. It’s probably more likely that my act, entirely out of character, was screaming that I was going to run off to the streets like an outdoor cat and wouldn’t they be sorry when I didn’t come back home that night or ever, even though I could remember our address, and would for the rest of my living days. To which my family, phlegmatic but in unison, knocked on all the wood available to them in that very wooden house.




Speak to a representative. 

by Katya Tylevich


Otmar Thormann. COWBOY, STOCKHOLM 1968. 

We had good reason to resent each other: our respective fantasies for how to fill the days had little in common. We were able to get a good night’s sleep every night, and they chose not to; we ate three different meals a day at regular hours, and they began their mornings with a coffee and a cigarette — they ended their nights, also in the mornings, with a coffee and a cigarette, and, this time, whiskey. We had never been in a fist-fight, and they hadn’t either, but they acted aggressively, as though they could stop clenched hands without elevated heart rates, with only a few, well placed, attractive bulging veins. We were healthy, but jealous. They were ill, but satisfied.

We decided that we would rather be ill and satisfied, too, so we invited them to join us on neutral territory — how about the woods? — for a kind of workshop, in which they could teach us how to be more like them. ‘And vice versa,’ we offered, but the bargain was declined. Our broader invitation, however, was met with an affirmative. We were surprised, and had a tough go of trying to contain our excitement.

More or less, we communicated by way of polite bows and cordial turns of ‘would you please’; we also shuffled our feet as a form of active deference. They responded with crude gestures, abbreviations and colloquialisms. One of them stuck a tongue between the index and middle fingers — you know, one of those. We tried to mimic their manners and motions, but failed to seem confident doing so. They said, ‘The woods are fine with us, but it will have to be east of the train tracks,’ a geographic symbolism that sent cold shivers down our spines, as expected, but still we nodded in agreement, not wanting to sound ungrateful or, god forbid, afraid. 

We arrived on time, and they were a no-show. We built a fire, following exactly the written instructions we had packed the night before. We made shish kabobs  (pork, chicken, and vegetarian), and cooked potatoes over an open fire. Despite our diligence, the potatoes were too raw when we bit into them, a failure that brought us all close to tears. 

We wondered aloud to each other, whether this wasn’t part of our desired learning process, this failure and abandonment, and then I did the unthinkable, by excusing myself from this passive self-criticism — ‘What is this, North Korea?’ I yelled (and some of us shrugged, because what’s from stopping this from being North Korea?) — and I tore the written instructions in two, kicked the dirt up with my feet and tried hard to lose my temper. 

That’s when they came in all swagger and cocked index fingers. ‘Lesson number one, losers! Never be on time.’ But I had already learned my lesson. I started packing my bags vigorously, so that the gesture couldn’t go unnoticed. We shouted for me to stop, while they shouted for me to keep going. I kept going, overcome by the desire to please, more than to leave. 

Naturally, I was having trouble sustaining my temper at a simmer; it usually flat-lined, as if the stove had never been turned on at all. But I was somewhat determined, so I weakly put on necessary airs: ‘My blood is boiling, everybody! Don’t make it overflow!’ I tried to recreate some of the lewd gestures that they had always made look effortless. But I probably raised the wrong fingers or had the wrong tongue. My gesture was like a starter pistol firing: As if on cue, they attacked us, we tried to defend ourselves, and in a matter of minutes, all found a singular easy target and a common ground. They turned on me with their combined list of sniveling grievances and empty threats.  I said, ‘What is this North Korea?’ They either told me I was not a patriot or overly patriotic, I didn’t ask them to repeat, and don’t care to remember.

Mostly, I was disheartened by the fact that I had no black eyes or central bruises to show for such a corporeal experience. My clothing was a bit scuffed up, but then again, I was wearing an outfit suitable for woodsmanship, wear, tear and otherwise. What was the use? I repatriated with the like-minded, but it was never the same between us again. They couldn’t trust that when I closed my eyes at night, that I was actually sleeping soundly. 




Scheduled to arrive.

by Katya Tylevich

Vito Acconci. Under-Plaza, 2010. Courtesy of Acconci Studio. 
He isn’t a nervous flier, but he is a nervous sleeper. Beyond the security gates, he faces a long flight, and he’s nervous that if he doesn’t sleep across the ocean, he won’t make it through the next day, which is an important one, having to do with reputation and capital. 

He likes to think of himself as an accountable man. He is an accountable man. He is not an accountant, but people sometimes take him for one; they stop him in the streets and ask for a free consultation, which he gives to the best of his armchair ability. When, at the airport ticket counter, he’s asked whether he had alone packed his suitcases, he answers truthfully that his significant (in all ways) other had also played a significant role in the organization of items in his bags.

Security waves him through with polite nods, but only after two fingers too many have been forced to snap the elastic of his boxer-briefs. That’s right, he’s not predictable in all ways. And yes, he’s understanding of the men and women in uniform who have to do their jobs and snap the elastic of his slim-fit wear as a consequence of his (unnecessary?) honesty.

Seated next to him in business class, his business associate, who’s also a friend — but a friend kept at arm’s length — tells him, ‘Here, have this.’ What is it? It’s a schedule IV controlled substance, which has helped countless victims of insomnia. ‘Don’t be a pussy,’ his business associate adds. 

Hem and haw. He doesn’t want to be a pussy, after all. He’s never taken this drug, or many others, aside from a dabble here and there of the usual suspects, but alright! Half a schedule IV controlled substance down the gullet and we’re ready for take-off. ‘Since I only took half, does that make it a schedule II?’ he jokes unsuccessfully, and closes his eyes to fall into a deep and restless snoozer.

Once a victim of insomnia, he now becomes a victim of rare but serious side-effects, and rises while the seatbelt sign is still on, walks without waking toward the flight deck (‘It’s the cockpit, people!’ he yells) and pushes his way toward the business class kitchenette, where flight attendants usually stir and shake ‘another gin and tonic?’ when it is safe for them to walk about he cabin. And it is certainly unsafe for them to do so now. 

‘Sir, we’re going to need to ask you to sit down. Sir, please sit down. Sir, right now, you’re in violation of federal safety laws and regulations?’ 

His fellow passengers hog-tie him while flight attendants:
a. look on, doe-eyed
b. play the hero
c. calm the passengers with ‘another gin and tonic?’
d. ‘I’ll be taking care of you on our flight, this evening.’

The pilots make an emergency landing. He wakes up. He’s horrified to find out what has happened. His business associate is horrified, afraid he’ll be accused of distributing a schedule IV controlled substance. His business associate hires an expensive attorney, but doesn’t share the legal counsel. Our would-be accountant hires a lesser-known attorney, by recommendation of a family friend. Our would-be accountant is put on trial. He’s found guilty of lesser charges. Community service. Humiliation. Significant fights with his significant other. Separation. Anxiety. A distrust of the mental healthcare system. The elastic of his boxer-briefs are permanently loose, from this day forward. 

And life’s unfair, and life’s unkind, and he is never mistaken for an accountant again. It must have been the way he’d carried himself, before. 



En route to a chipped shoulder.

by Katya Tylevich


Epsen Dietrichson. Second Construction #1.

His country of origin left something to be desired in terms of international clout, but it had afforded him an adolescence surrounded by, what might be considered (in a proverbial sense) to be ‘paradise’: warm blue skies, cold blue waters, sand dunes and cafés. He had spent his young adulthood not inhaling, cigarette between two fingers, trying to finesse a lazy dissonance.  
His proper adulthood. That one took place in a country of greater importance, but lesser natural beauty, which suited him, because he was attracted to what he’d only dreamed about when surrounded by loveliness: a harsh natural climate, a harsh social climate, a lack of space, and other brutal physical realities. ‘Come in, make yourself uncomfortable.’ And he did, settling into the routine aches and embarrassments of a grey city, in which people barked at each other and lifted their legs to piss on everything and everybody within pissing range. 
Even in an acerbic capital, he retained some of his gentle disposition. He remained sleepy in his motions. He smiled politely if he happened upon eye-contact with an approaching face and body. Once, he smiled politely at a mugger. After he was robbed at knifepoint, he wrote home that he’d ‘never felt so alive,’ a cliché to which he finally felt entitled. He mailed the letter, addressed to his country of origin, but to nobody who lived there in particular.
He found companionship in a big, brown shepherd dog that (who) ended up outliving all the other pups in the neighborhood by six years. The shepherd met old age, who introduced her to depression. A veterinarian, specializing in geriatric canine anxiety, prescribed canine benzodiazepines, electroconvulsive therapy, group sessions, and, as another humane option, euthanasia. 
Thanks for the canine benzodiazepines, doc, and he and the shepherd left with pursed lips. Four years later, still melancholy, the shepherd passed (of a broken heart). (No. Actually, of a canine heart-attack, caused by rich diet, infrequent exercise, low sex drive, lethargy, and high cholesterol.)
After the shepherd’s passing, his apartment felt empty, and he decided to experiment with some of the canine benzodiazepines. He had an adverse reaction after the first try and ended up with a bladder infection, feeling no less anxious. He was uncomfortable for the duration of his antibiotics course. During this healing process, he looked at photographs of his country of origin and wished that he had taken his dog there, so that ‘Pancake’ — a diminutive, short for Pamela — could have run on the beaches, which were all dog-friendly, because to be unfriendly seemed a waste of time, breath and resources.
He didn’t have to live alone, but chose to. There was a woman who took interest in him, but he declined the offer with a smile. There was a man who took interest in him. He was flattered, but declined the offer with a wink. He sometimes wondered whether what he felt was satisfaction or inertia. Even with a reoccurring bladder infection, existence was more or less cozy. 
You know, he took the vet up on that euthanasia offer. But when he showed up without the shepherd (dust to dust), the veterinary staff regretted to inform him that they were not accepting new or human patients. He made a pun about impatience. He tried to make a fuss but couldn’t, so he retraced his steps back home, hoping that he would be held up at knifepoint somewhere along that so-familiar route.