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Hear the full interview on Yale Radio:

http://museumofnonvisibleart.com/interviews/andrea-scrima/

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Making art was a form of archaeology, of excavating the inscrutable. It revealed itself through fragments, through their reconstruction. Why this dot, this smear—why did they resonate in such an unmistakable way? It was essential to recognize these events, to understand the patterns of their repetition and to narrow them down to a visual vocabulary. These were the elements at our disposal, there were never more than a handful of them, and they remained irreducible. Process was everything: there had to be a truthfulness to it, a conjunction between the act and the impulse that had propelled it, an economy in which every mark stood for something—not as a means to an end, but at the very moment it was being made. It required a suspension of conscious will; it was about locating one’s inner sensorium and learning to pay attention to it, to trust it. It was the point of convergence between the self and the world: the place where, if only for an instant, a universal language might be revealed. I stepped back to view the large canvas. Subtle shadows were visible across the white expanse now, caused by the topography of the scraped surface beneath it. Swirls of pigment had come to rest in the turpentine on the floor, and as I bent down to spread a few sheets of newspaper over the turbid puddle, my reflection bent down with me and reached its fingertips up toward my outstretched hand. 

— from the novel-in-progress Like Lips, Like Skins

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A few years ago, some good people here in Berlin began putting together a project for NPR Radio called “Berlin Stories,” a collection of short pieces about the city read aloud by the authors who wrote them.

I adapted an excerpt from A Lesser Day (2010, Spuyten Duyvil Press), a scene set in 1993. I was living next door to an old woman who’d been the building’s superintendent throughout the rise and reign of National Socialism; one of the last of her kind, she’d been presiding there for over sixty years. The results can be heard here:

http://berlinstories.org/2009/01/15/andrea-scrima-on-the-old-lady-across-the-hall/

Scrima pic

The above image is taken from a series of installations titled Shelf Life. The pinned notes of the shelf lives of perishable goods were found on the inside of a kitchen pantry door of an old woman who had recently died. English translations (sample):

The following keep for:

1/2 year         fats, cereal products, dough products

1 year             meats, fish, berries

2 years           light fruit

2 – 3 years    spinach, celery, tomato paste

3 – 4 years    legumes, green beans, kohlrabi, root vegetables, mushrooms

 

One night, the smell of smoke sent me hurrying out into the hallway. I began to knock on her door, calling out Frau Chran, Frau Chran! as I stared at the sign above the bell with her name written in a shaky hand, and then I began knocking more loudly when all at once I heard Frau Chran fumbling with a set of keys from behind. And then the door opened a crack, and I pushed against it, only to discover that the chain was still attached. Let me in! Something’s on fire! and Frau Chran, with a look of fear and confusion in her eyes, obeyed and slid back the chain. I hurried past her into the living room, where a Christmas decoration hanging above a sideboard had caught fire, one long burning garland strung across the wall, and beneath it a smoking candle. I ran into the kitchen and found a bucket under the sink; I turned the knob of the faucet as far as it would go, but nothing more than a thin stream of water trickled out. I have to call the fire department, I thought frantically, but then I remembered that Frau Chran had had her number disconnected, and I realized that I would have to get her out of the apartment somehow. All at once Frau Chran began to whimper. Frau Chran, we have to leave, we have to call for help, I said as I tried to guide her out of the kitchen, but she pushed my hand away and cried out What? What are you saying? And I shouted We have to leave! and yanked her by the elbow, but she struck out with her cane and lost her balance and nearly fell to the floor as I caught her just in time. I’m not leaving, I’m not leaving, she screamed, her hands clasped around my arms, and then I saw that the bucket was nearly full, and I freed myself from her grip and pulled the bucket out of the sink, ran into the living room, and threw the water onto the flaming garland as a loud hiss rose up in the room. Frau Chran came hobbling in; she was wailing now, you won’t tell anyone, will you? Then a crafty expression crept over her face. I have a little savings, she began, if you could find me a nice young man who’ll paper the room, and then I heard myself telling her that everything would be alright, but I knew it was only a matter of time until someone would assess the danger she was beginning to present to the rest of the building’s inhabitants and notify the authorities.