Guillermo Vargas Habacuc

I’m not going to link to the photos / video of artist Habacuc’s work. If you want to see a dog starving to death as an art installation, you can search on the name.

Proposal for funding: An art installation: Guillermo Vargas Habacuc comes to my house & we tie him to a tree out back without food or water. My dogs & I watch from the deck as he starves to death. They bark at him & I jeer, but soon we grow bored & he dies in loneliness & terror. Certainly the authorities would have no objections since this would be an art installation.

Note: Looking around a bit more, I see that the artist has issued a series of statements defending his work. It’s hard to know what to make of them, but even the most recent in which he says he is trying to call attention to the plight of stray dogs makes no logical, aesthetic, or moral sense. Why not a street urchin with AIDS? Why not a torture victim? You want to call attention to the plight of stray dogs in Costa Rica? Go rescue one, provide veterinary care, and if it is “going to die anyway,” comfort it as you have it put down. Photograph & videotape tape the process & show that work in the gallery. Any real art — even the ugliest & most painful — must spring from some source of compassion; otherwise, it is merely egotism, voyeurism, exploitation, sensationalism, stupidity in various mixtures & combinations. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Travel & Ambition

Carole left for ten days in Budapest today, driving through a snowstorm for three hours to get to the Montreal airport for her Swiss Air flight. We kept in touch by cell phone, with me acting as her navigator a couple of times by pulling up Google Maps & making sure she was on the right track. She’s doing a book-binding workshop with a colleague & scouting the scene for interesting art. One of the perks of her job as a gallery administrator is travel. She’s also been to Berlin this year, gets down to NYC regularly & has been to Nunavut — twice, I think. I used to travel a lot more, but haven’t been much of anywhere the last few years. I used to run off to conferences a couple of times a year, but got tired of the hassle around the beginning of this decade. I made several trips to Vietnam in the late 1990s, culminating in Fulbright year in 2000, have stuck close to hearth & home since then. I’m making plans to do a bit more travel in the coming year, a development that coincides with a bit of renewed ambition to promote myself & my work. In fact, during the last several years I have turned away from my earlier desire to go to conferences, give readings, & make influential friends in the service of my art. My only conference the last few years was in Portland, Maine! It turned out, I came to see, that I was driven by the wrong sort of ambition, which is something I think I learned in Vietnam. Vietnamese poets & scholars have often led public lives, served the government, advanced themselves socially, etc. But there is also a tradition of withdrawal in which the poet returns to his native village to write, meditate, perhaps teach the young folk a bit about literature, & grow a garden. That is what I have been doing the last few years. I even stopped — for the most part — trying to publish my poems. Over the last few months, though, I have begun assembling manuscripts, sending work to editors, reading literary journals & generally working to face outward again. Tonight, however, I’m home alone with the dogs. One of the odd things about my life with Carole (yesterday was our 20th wedding anniversary) is that we almost never travel together. When we were young we spent several months in Europe together, but that was before we had dogs & jobs with different schedules. Since then, we’ve only had a few brief trips together. Our friends marvel sometimes at the extent to which we lead our own separate lives, but it is something we have done consciously. We like being at home together & we like our separate travels. Carole is listening to the roar of jet engines right now & I am listening to dogs snore. So, I’m looking forward to some trips — perhaps back to Vietnam — during the next year, but tonight I am content.