"Three Rooms"

Kasia van Schaik

Kasia van Schaik (she/her) is a writer and critic living in Montreal, where she is a PhD candidate at McGill University. Her work has appeared in Electric Literature, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jacket2, The Rumpus, Maisonneuve, CBC Books, and Best Canadian Poetry. Her first poetry chapbook, Sea Burial Laws According to Country, was published in 2018 with Desert Pets Press. She is the fiction editor for the Quebec Writers’ Federation journal, Carte Blanche.

“‘After so many hours spent in the room, / One wonders what the room will do,’ writes the poet Barbara Guest. These prose poems explore just that: What will the room do? How will it do it?
 In this project, I am interested in not only how domestic spaces guide what an artist creates but how these spaces become rhetorical devices, curating the artist’s and, by extension, the viewer’s experience. The rooms we occupy shape our everyday habits, but they also determine our perceptions of and reactions to our broader social world. Surrounded by their bone, blue, and pink walls, these intimate spaces act as archives, storing within them the traces of their occupants. I believe an examination of the emotional, political, and temporal dimensions of these physical and imagined rooms is critical to understanding the ways in which artists’ relationships to their homes influenced and continues to influence art and art making. By interacting with Ghost Ranch, the Blue House, and the Luis Barragán House, I seek to collaborate with the room — to co-inhabit the artists’ spaces of shelter and creation.”

         Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Georgia O’Keeffe spent the last half of her life in a desert where she painted the sky through pelvic bones. The hole in the bone became a room, the body worn down to its essential map or a set of instructions.

Ghost Ranch looks out over a flat valley. Of the singular purple hill, O’Keeffe wrote It is my private mountain; It belongs to me.
God told me if I painted it enough I could have it.

There are strange lights in the desert. Dark driveways leading to them or past them to towns rumoured to exist on the outskirts of the landscape. A dog, unmoving, occupies the deck of an empty house. Clouds enter the night sky; they exit without moving.

Every morning O’Keeffe leaves the house and goes walking. She paints Sky with Flat White Cloud. The cloud takes up most of the canvas. It fills the space where the land should be. Later we’ll claim that her cloudscapes were inspired by her views from airplane windows.

What is the point of memory if each day is the same? Shedding a new sky, white and blue. Through the collar of a shirt, the same face with a river running through it. A man that looks at you across a canyon. Not a man but a rock with a melancholic attitude.

Another church, Hermandez, New Mexico. The wind casts a sheath of needles at the painter’s feet.

prickly personality         childless         severe         self-made         this is why she survives.

After her husband died O’Keeffe lived for another 40 years.
She didn’t recognize herself in the photographs he took of her. She was a shy person but in his photographs she poses naked under the camera, her long brown arms circling her head.

It is as if in my one life
I have lived many lives

The church in New Mexico appears again in her final paintings.
A white structure beside a shifting road. No figures or flowers or evidence of water.

Having lost her peripheral vision, she no longer paints with oils. She negotiates a future for herself amongst the bones, mapping a path towards death.

(Black Place)

To die far away
Not here
To die where nobody is waiting for us

She lived to 98. In the last images we have of her, Georgia O’Keeffe is very thin. Unsensual. Like a philosopher. She wears a black hat and a padded grey kimono to block the sun. She lives with a twenty-seven-year-old man, John Bruce Hamilton, a potter.


          Blue House, Coyoacán

In all her photos she’s the only woman, erect, and gazing at the camera head-on, a hairless dog at her feet. When I visit her house in the south of the city, I count the books in her library. Swann’s Way. Lewis Carroll. Pound. She understood that things were more intimate when it was just men making art.

One wall of the house contains photographs of all her lovers: the wives of famous men she knew, a Japanese architect who sent her a plate of butterflies to hang over her bed as she was dying. She painted self-portraits in a daybed in a hallway. A horizontal mirror above the bed reflected her face. At night she slept in her room beside by cabinets of dolls. The only other bedroom in the house belonged to Diego Rivera and is where Trotsky stayed before he was assassinated with an icepick. I used to think an icepick was a weapon made of ice. A long spike that would melt after use leaving no evidence. Trotsky in the street lying in a pool of clear water.


          Luis Barragán House, Mexico City

I make a forbidden video once the tour group has left the room: the panel that opens into a door, the giant silver eggs in which you can view every object in the room, the bookshelf that closes to make the room exitless. Trees flash in the windows on all sides of the house. We’re far from the sea, still I hear it.

The library is filled with religious texts, long spines, maps. No lamps from the ceiling. No technology except a record player. He listened to music from the provinces, says the guide and leads us to a walled-in rooftop, which no one was allowed to enter during the architect’s lifetime. When he died his ashes were compressed into a diamond and set in an engagement ring.

The white wall cuts off the neighbours’ view. The pink wall holds back the garden. There is no furniture on the roof, only two dimensions of space on which the sky rests like a lid. The leaves of a giant sprawling plant intrude over the last wall. These are ancient colours, the guide tells us. Pink, for example, is the colour of isolation. You might be surprised. I was. Pink and green.