Their Blue Books

pieter van bogaert

Their Blue Books

for Fort Beau, 2024

A loved one gifts them a Swatch. That was still in fashion back then. That love has several in different colors for different outfits. They get the blue one because their love thinks it suits them best. Another love gives them a blue top, inspired by the previous one’s blue watch. And from yet another lover they get a tattoo, a bracelet of blue dolphins, because that love thought it was their favorite color. They wear the color of love.

Today they sit next to a stack of blue books. Those books come to them since that moment on the beach, that moment when their thoughts wander to Derek Jarman’s latest film, to Blue. They pick out a book by Maggie Nelson from the stack. The Argonauts is named after Roland Barthes, who writes of love as of the ship of the Argonauts: always in renewal, a rejuvenation that lasts as long as love lasts, without ever changing its name. In Bluets, Maggie Nelson’s other book in the same stack, she writes about her love (renewal, rejuvenation) for the color blue: always different, always new.

One book in the collection comes to them at a time before that moment on the beach: The Logic of The Lure by John Paul Ricco. It comes at a moment of resourcing, a moment of willed loss, with an ambition to realize an invisible work that appears and disappears between the folds of events. Ricco writes about art as an act, present yet merging into its surroundings. He writes about art that seduces. About the lure of a small gesture. The fleeting, the erotic of an encounter. Queer aesthetics is what Ricco calls it. He also writes about Jarman’s Blue, not as a film, but as a piece of architecture – a film that becomes environment.

Yes, maybe that’s where it starts – with images to be lost in, images that are lost. With images of loss. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit separates each new chapter from the previous by a piece called The Blue of Distance. Always again, throughout the book. She paraphrases Benjamin: to be lost is to be fully present and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery. It’s not about being lost, it’s about losing yourself, about what Buddhists call a state of unbeing.

The blue of distance, that is the deepest blue, the blue on the horizon. It is the light that does not reach you, that does not travel all the way to where you are. It is the color of where you are not, the color of longing for the distance that you never reach. That is the color of Fort Beau, they think, of heaven on earth. It brings them back to their visit to the Arena chapel in Padua to see the restored (renewed, rejuvenated) frescoes by Giotto that T.J. Clark writes about in Heaven on Earth and that also recur in Solnit’s book. The distance between your self and the object of desire fills with the blue of that desire (The Distance Between Us is the title of another book they read by John Paul Ricco).

Solnit writes about the cyanotype, a nineteenth-century technique that involves laying objects on light-sensitive paper in the sun. She describes it as vanishing prints – disappearing prints – but actually they are appearing prints. They later learn this from a book by Carol Maver, Blue Mythologies, in which the author herself refers to Solnit’s book. With her, cyanotype becomes twenty-first-century child’s play in which objects are placed on light-sensitive paper in the sun and then watched as the blue disappears and appears upon development.

It’s about contact, about proximity. Solnit: There is no distance in childhood (…) Whatever is absent is impossible, irretrievable, unreachable. (…) The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel.

They buy Solnit’s book at a lost moment in a newsstand in St Pancras Station, waiting for the train that will take them back to the mainland. In London, the city of Jarman. Solnit writes about the city when she talks about the early 1980s, the golden age of ruins, the heyday of punk, about the end times when better off middle-class people moved away from ruined inner cities. The early eighties, when they, teenagers, like Solnit, move to the city to live in an attic room, no less. The early 1980s, the years of loss and of never-filled potential. Today, they themselves are such a middle-class person about to leave the city in search of peace, of distance, the distance of blue. Unfulfilled longing.

Those blue books, they are all about the end, about the moment when something turns into something else. In Living in the end Times, Slavoj Zizek traces the beginning of the end of those 1980s to the end of that beginning today. In On the Museum’s Ruins, Douglas Crimp writes about how works of art change in different contexts, such as love and the Argonaut’s boat by Barthes and Nelson (John Paul Ricco also writes about that book and about the photographs in Crimp’s bedroom where they take on a different meaning than in the classroom). In Blue Nights, Joan Didion writes about the loss of her daughter Quintana Roo.

The largest and perhaps the most beautiful book in the collection, their piece de résistance, is the book Julie Ault put together on Félix Gonzalez-Torres, in which each of the late artist’s works is centered on loss (of Ross), of erasure (of identity), of time (the distance from desire). The tattooed blue dolphins on their arm are a design by Félix Gonzalez-Torres

The strange thing is that of all the books by and about Jarman, the other collection that has since grown around them, there is only one with a blue cover: the concise but solid introduction by Michael Charlesworth, in the Critical Lives series.

They hesitate to add three more books by Rosi Braidotti to the collection. Her Metamorphoses. Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming is undeniably blue. It is about change (renewal, rejuvenation). Her Transpositions has a gray-blue sheen, broken by the brown of the stairs in the cover photo. It is about living in transition: ‘I’ is transient. The woman in the position of Da Vinci’s Vitruvius Man on the cover of her The Posthuman is unmistakably blue, surrounded by the green field with the genetic code of her DNA. These are three (more or less) blue books about change, transitions, living on in time.

Their Blue Books
is a fragment of Fort Beau – verhalen van beginnen en eindes that will be published in October 2024 by KAAP, Brugge/Oostende

Blueprinted by Maaike & Fairuz, Garage64
for Fort Beau, the L’Âge d’or program of Cinematek Brussels, 25 en 26 May 2024