— The Pittsburgh Years is an audio and transcription archive that has slowly developed over a period of 20 years or so. The archive is a collection of voice recordings from messages left on my answering machine by out spoken and charismatic Pittsburgh native, artist and poet, Natalka Voslakov (1952-2011). Like Andy Warhol before her, Natalka’s art form was talking, and she would use the phone as an excuse to expound on a wide range of topics, knowing I would save the messages, which I did dutifully from 1990-2010. She was one of my dearest friends and though we drifted apart after I left town in the 80’s and our lives were irrevocably altered by time and circumstances, we maintained a healthy correspondence, me by letter (whereabouts of which are unknown) and she by answering machine (some of which have survived) in speech acts that she described as ‘performance monologues’. The recordings are quotidian speech acts, confessions, rants, gossip sessions, philosophical diatribes, political opinion, etc and as a whole are a valuable record of an individual subjective voice- now a historical voice- someone who experienced life in a particular time and place. Like a secret diary, the experiences and events on this small and confessional timeline of life’s ups and downs is valuable as this individual gives insight to the broader culture. The Index of the archive reflects the range of noteworthy topics raised, including, for example: Geishas, Medical Marijuana and Psychics. The emphasis on sound, and the voice of a woman, an un-famous working class woman at that, is ephemeral and could easily be forgotten. I marvel at the wit, deeply political world view and sophisticated presentation of self that Natalka so knowingly offers in these recordings. The Pittsburgh Years as audio and transcription, proposes to engage the current discourses on the archive in a fun and artistic way, to be an experiment in the aesthetics of listening and to honor memory in a legacy project.
THE GEISHA LIFE
You’re the only one who ever, ever understood…and I thank you so much for recognizing that, my greatest work of art was myself. But that was only my unconscious memory, not conscious—of the geisha life. And I was gonna say, why, did I not end up…like, for example—um, born clairvoyant Marvin said, if I had succeeded in killing myself… I…could, would have faced the ultimate Goddess/God which I cannot begin to comprehend, but, but—physics will prove THAT, eventually and all the other such things. Um, I could’ve been wiped out FOREVER because of the religion, that I was, born into. However in Japan, when I hung myself, as a young geisha…who had the same problems that I brought to this lifetime. I was allowed to come back, it was not a problem because, in that religion, which was Shinto, that I followed—and also um, that is not…that is a belief that is OK. Listen, I was ready to make some really classy fake letterhead and go say, I’m making this film and get a, get a car and get in and drive—but, you know, I would’ve ended up in jail…and, I don’t need that. I spent enough time in quite a few—nonviolent protesting, um, I’m proud of that. Um, also some of the ah, you could call ah, psych wards, I was in. Yeah, dual diagnosis lockdown unit, which, um—like, bad people get money easily, from art world grants and from mainstream, or whatever you want to call the alternative. I’ll tell you where I’m at now. You’re, you finish what you gonna do but I’m in the middle, but the middle is the new age—I’m ahead. This is the new territory. However, MY BEING TRENDY—and I do loathe LA, by the way—but, you know, I couldn’t pick up my kids and move them there. And, when I was here for six weeks with no phone and no TV, um, and all that, when my grandmother was passing, and all that, I caught up a lot of my back issues of my reading. Unfortunately I couldn’t move the books around or unpack them. Now, do you remember growing up when they had those frickin, um, you know, um, paper glasses for 3-D—like Swamp Creature? Now—Samsung—that’s out of Korea, um—and I like Samsung stuff too, they’re really good. OK, so. THEY actually have now a flatscreen where you gotta wear fucking glasses to see it? Do you know how fucking over that is, in Tokyo they HAVE flatscreens, you don’t need the motherfucking glasses! Isn’t that stupidious? It’s like, OK James Cameron… Now, we all know we’re on the Titanic…and, we are third class steerage, all of us in this country, and we are just a FIGMENT in your great 3-D mind, with glasses. This means, if it’s now in America—OK, the basic rumor for 3000 or for 2501—it’s already over in Tokyo. They hold these products off, so that they can send them to dumbass Americans, so they will pay the full price when you can go to Tokyo and be overwhelmed at how behind we are. OK, but what I’m saying is: number one, how am I gonna deal with this. The more—I’m gonna keep gettin—you know what—I just wish I had a liquor store around here. I would go and buy some good vodka. I really mean that. I mean—I’m sorry, you don’t mix vodka with the drug I’m taking, but I’m ready to be loonie was a tune, as the Looney Tunes we grew up watching. I’ll tell you what, if they STOP everything, I will call WTAE, Channel 4, The Action News—they’re always looking for something weird. I will camp out and I will go crazy and I will tell them what happened—what they did, and that I would have, and you know what, unfortunately, Dr. Yonger from Pakistan is bound to throw me into Western Psych or wherever—well, you know what, just, you know what—I don’t want to go back there. Like I want to sit around making motherfucking macramé, with beads? I will be on TV. Besides the fact that I’m making out a will, which I did leave for Mr. Shaffer’s box which he didn’t even return—crying and screaming and going berserk—I was gonna keep myself awake as long as I can, like how Hunter S. Thompson used to do and go wacko, completely. Thank God I don’t believe in guns or violence. But here’s the point, I’m gonna forge ahead. FUCK the attorneys. We’re in the new turf now. You know Pirate Cove? You DO know that the only country, that Sweden is the wild…to um, to um, absolute anarchy um, with the Internet, in fact it’s the only country, fucking Sweden… allowed, the CIA and the goons from the US to take and take all their servers out—from Pirate Bay? And, they are yeah, there. And you know why China’s rising and we’re falling? It’s real simple. Because they’re not fucking stupid like we are. Their leaders, are building the middle class—and I’m telling you, the things that we don’t know and we don’t hear that to go on there—the underground clubs. The only influence we have on the world, is…um, our cultural input—the rap movement, the punk movement, all that—the UK and us—and we were part of that in the film genre, in the Super8—but it’s over, it’s the past. I don’t want to live in the past. You can’t go back to being who you were, but you have to become who you must be. You know, fuck the ATTORNEYS. FUCK all this shit. The age of Enlightenment and—rational thought, of scientific thought—started, way back, when Galileo was put on the rack and tortured by the pope…to deny, to take back what we know, is absolutely correct, that…you know, we, we do not evolve around the sun. I mean, we revolve around the sun, the sun does not revolve around us. That was the beginning of the age of the Enlightenment, the enlightenment of everything—of the political changes, of the scientific revolution. We’re just at the beginning—and that is a bitch, that’s the worst fucking time to be anything or anyone, to be a philosopher…to be—you know, I mean look. LOOK. Look at this sorry ass United States of Ambien. It makes me want to puke, vomit and throw up. The point I’m making is, I would rather— you know, FUCK ATTORNEYS.
Peggy Ahwesh was born in Pittsburgh, PA and currently lives and works between Brooklyn, NY and the Catskills. She is a media artist who got her start in the 1970s with feminism, punk and amateur Super 8 filmmaking. Her work has exhibited worldwide including at the New Museum, New York, NY; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; The Tate Modern, London, UK; Guggenheim Museum, Bilboa, Spain and her films featured at the Whitney Biennial, NY (5 editions); THE AMERICAN CENTURY, Whitney Museum, NY; and at “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution” 2008, P.S.1, Queens, NY. Her works are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, among others. She has received grants and awards including from the Jerome Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, Creative Capital, NYSC and the Alpert Award in the Arts. Peggy Ahwesh is Professor of Film & Electronic Arts at Bard College where she has taught for many years.