FAILING TO BE TOGETHER DIDN'T SEPARATE US //

March - April 2015

Ulitsa Vybornaya 45, Novosibirsk, Novosibirskaya Oblast’, Russia

This project has been digitized; the original images were captured on 35mm film on a LC-A+ camera.

It can take as much planning to bring two people together on screen as it does to get thirty to a train stop near Moscow in March. I had to capture the exchange, especially since you were in a parked car, in Iowa no less, and I’ve never been to Iowa nor you to Novosibirsk. If your government stipend paid for your groceries, did they look inside your bag? If mine bought me that grapefruit, do they get to see me eat it? We weren’t exactly talking in private. I don’t know how to escape the authorities on that screen with you. It’s been so long since we’ve met at a train stop or on any other platform.

It can take as much planning to bring two people together on screen as it does to get thirty to a train stop near Moscow in March. I had to capture the exchange, especially since you were in a parked car, in Iowa no less, and I’ve never been to Iowa nor you to Novosibirsk. If your government stipend paid for your groceries, did they look inside your bag? If mine bought me that grapefruit, do they get to see me eat it? We weren’t exactly talking in private. I don’t know how to escape the authorities on that screen with you. It’s been so long since we’ve met at a train stop or on any other platform.

You were at your desk, in the kitchen. Turning your head, your eyes would have passed into that unreachable space. Instead, our world was shallow, your worry deep. Even with two pairs of glasses on, you couldn’t see the comforter (which you bought), the leg (which grew in your womb), the charger (of the iPad you insisted I bring), the books (that I would send back to your house). I was looking East and you were facing South and still our eyes met. Will you frame this photo I took of us together? When guests come over, we can say, Jyoti became the family photographer that day. We can say, Stephanie bought the antibacterial gel that healed the scratch on Jyoti’s leg and also bought that screen which became their meeting place. We can ask, Well, which was it, which March?/When they divided us like a deck of cards! Stephanie could hear the sound of water falling in Siberia.

You were at your desk, in the kitchen. Turning your head, your eyes would have passed into that unreachable space. Instead, our world was shallow, your worry deep. Even with two pairs of glasses on, you couldn’t see the comforter (which you bought), the leg (which grew in your womb), the charger (of the iPad you insisted I bring), the books (that I would send back to your house). I was looking East and you were facing South and still our eyes met. Will you frame this photo I took of us together? When guests come over, we can say, Jyoti became the family photographer that day. We can say, Stephanie bought the antibacterial gel that healed the scratch on Jyoti’s leg and also bought that screen which became their meeting place. We can ask, Well, which was it, which March?/When they divided us like a deck of cards! Stephanie could hear the sound of water falling in Siberia.

Beginning in the 1970s, a Russian performance art group called Kollektivnye Deystviya—Collective Actions—organized a series of performances called Appearances, or perhaps Apparitions depending on your sense of the Russian poyavlenie. Artists’ activities were under close scrutiny by the government for their compliance with official ideology and, to avoid their watch, audience members were carefully selected and invited by personal phone call to witness an event at a location outside of Moscow. The action that followed would be distant, ambiguous, subtle. Figures moved across the landscape. And then? The viewers’ interpretations became the only record of what had occurred, their written testimonies produced and collected after the fact. I am considering whether these moments captured on photographic film are collective actions, too.

Beginning in the 1970s, a Russian performance art group called Kollektivnye Deystviya—Collective Actions—organized a series of performances called Appearances, or perhaps Apparitions depending on your sense of the Russian poyavlenie. Artists’ activities were under close scrutiny by the government for their compliance with official ideology and, to avoid their watch, audience members were carefully selected and invited by personal phone call to witness an event at a location outside of Moscow. The action that followed would be distant, ambiguous, subtle. Figures moved across the landscape. And then? The viewers’ interpretations became the only record of what had occurred, their written testimonies produced and collected after the fact. I am considering whether these moments captured on photographic film are collective actions, too.

I know what it means to be alone in two places at once. To live with two beds, and to sleep in only one. You were in the bathroom when I took this photo, offscreen and therefore out of sight. I looked into the room you inhabited, unable to sneak past this one angle. Unable to look into your drawers, to pretend that your house was mine. My building rose up in concrete, and it was fall when I first ascended those five flights. The material of the stairs wasn’t forgiving and by spring that hadn’t changed. My first dinner there consisted of potato chips. All those walls that contained me never contained you, even if your image appeared within their confines. You never ate cookies or drank tea at my table. And you and I are already far from the earth.

I know what it means to be alone in two places at once. To live with two beds, and to sleep in only one. You were in the bathroom when I took this photo, offscreen and therefore out of sight. I looked into the room you inhabited, unable to sneak past this one angle. Unable to look into your drawers, to pretend that your house was mine. My building rose up in concrete, and it was fall when I first ascended those five flights. The material of the stairs wasn’t forgiving and by spring that hadn’t changed. My first dinner there consisted of potato chips. All those walls that contained me never contained you, even if your image appeared within their confines. You never ate cookies or drank tea at my table. And you and I are already far from the earth.

Like khrushchevki, the slowly disappearing five-storied Soviet apartment buildings that weren’t meant to last this long, screens enclose the widest range of human experience in nearly identical structures. Here, I might accidentally walk into a conversation that wasn’t mine or spend the holidays with a complete stranger. Once the door opens, there are so many details. You were in your office—I recognize the photos behind you. The natural light flooding the frame, illuminating your face, tells me that it was daytime in New York (somewhere between nighttime and early morning in Novosibirsk). Perhaps you were on your lunch break. Perhaps we would hang up and I would sleep. I placed you on the stool, where I placed so many other conversations—a bust, elevated. Now these conversations have different names, they wander the park of fallen heroes unable to find monuments in their honor. Will this moment be empty until I fill it with words?

Like khrushchevki, the slowly disappearing five-storied Soviet apartment buildings that weren’t meant to last this long, screens enclose the widest range of human experience in nearly identical structures. Here, I might accidentally walk into a conversation that wasn’t mine or spend the holidays with a complete stranger. Once the door opens, there are so many details. You were in your office—I recognize the photos behind you. The natural light flooding the frame, illuminating your face, tells me that it was daytime in New York (somewhere between nighttime and early morning in Novosibirsk). Perhaps you were on your lunch break. Perhaps we would hang up and I would sleep. I placed you on the stool, where I placed so many other conversations—a bust, elevated. Now these conversations have different names, they wander the park of fallen heroes unable to find monuments in their honor. Will this moment be empty until I fill it with words?

Our conversation is a triangle, at least, the data of our faces are swimming together at a point on a line along the ocean floor, our faces made of flesh looking around at the depth. Why not a polygon of endless sides? We already assume that other ears, other networks, are listening. How might we oppose an absence? Dwell in the invisible crowd surrounding us? I am nuzzled on your pillow, and you on mine, both covered with identical cases we bought at distant Ikeas. We are saying goodnight, I am closing my eyes, but I won’t be there to make you breakfast in the morning. Our images are swimming laps with one another. Neck and neck, they keep pace so that we can remain grounded on land, unaware. Still these conversations happened. I interrupted you. You asked me questions. My voice filled the room you slept in.

Our conversation is a triangle, at least, the data of our faces are swimming together at a point on a line along the ocean floor, our faces made of flesh looking around at the depth. Why not a polygon of endless sides? We already assume that other ears, other networks, are listening. How might we oppose an absence? Dwell in the invisible crowd surrounding us? I am nuzzled on your pillow, and you on mine, both covered with identical cases we bought at distant Ikeas. We are saying goodnight, I am closing my eyes, but I won’t be there to make you breakfast in the morning. Our images are swimming laps with one another. Neck and neck, they keep pace so that we can remain grounded on land, unaware. Still these conversations happened. I interrupted you. You asked me questions. My voice filled the room you slept in.

I heard a song begin at a friend’s apartment one night, “I love the one who will not arrive.” I can’t say the screen is a place, but it functions that way in describing our togetherness. Your face is no longer flat in front of me, and I failed to record it all. I only have proof of the attempt. What happens upon arrival?

I heard a song begin at a friend’s apartment one night, “I love the one who will not arrive.” I can’t say the screen is a place, but it functions that way in describing our togetherness. Your face is no longer flat in front of me, and I failed to record it all. I only have proof of the attempt. What happens upon arrival?


Jyoti Arvey is a writer, artist and bookseller based in Oakland, CA. She received her BA in Slavic Studies from Connecticut College, where she completed her undergraduate thesis, "Gender in the Everyday Life of the Russian Home." Jyoti taught English for a year in Novosibirsk, Russia as a Fulbright scholar. Her work has been published in Chronogram, theEEEL, and the Hummingbird Magazine of the Short Poem, among others.