Context Notes: Kimberly Bartosik

…I do think that something of the effect I have on people is to put everything on an edge where they’re both infatuated with a kind of charmingness happening in the person or in the writing, and also flatly terrified by a revelation or acceptance of revelation that’s almost happening, never quite totally happening.

A kind of glare.

Yes, a glare from behind the set where I’m standing. So if I’m a little actor on stage, there’s this terrible glare coming from behind me. And they feel that. And I don’t have to feel it, but I’m aware of it going past me towards them, and I see dismay on their faces mixed with this other thing. I think that’s why sometimes I am spooky to people. Because this glare is mixed with an infantile charm that disarms, so they have to deal with both.

But what is that glare?

I don’t know. It’s just absolute dread. It’s bumping up against the fact that you die alone. You think about that from time to time all through life, and it continues to make no sense against all the little efforts you make in your life to be happy and have friends and pass the time.

Does everybody carry that glare around with them, or is it just more evident behind you?

I think everybody can have access to it, only they mask it for themselves in different ways. I have fewer ways to mask it for some reason.

The Paris Review, “The Art of Poetry No. 88”, fall 2004.


Darkness. A man switches on a small, handheld source of light. A single bulb. We catch a glimpse of a body, a bare foot jutting out of a pile of electrical cords. Light off.  Darkness. Exposure again, the body has shifted. Darkness. Light. Darkness again. Concealment. Framing, tracing, highlighting, featuring–his body a utilitarian shadow of the woman. Space expands and contracts, evoking a landscape of loneliness and emptiness. The light glares, shining brightly on her face–her body stays still, her shadow traveling across the wall to join her. At times it seems like an interrogation, at others a confessional privacy, a disclosure. He holds her. He assists her. He creates spaces for her. She enters them, embodies them, filling them with her presence, abandons them.

In the way that Anne Carson has dug into the depths of grief, scrutinizing the experience of dying and loss, both ancient and present, historic and personal, Kimberly Bartosik returns time and again to the male/female duet form, considering and reconsidering its impact and significance, the dark ranges of its possibilities, its physical and emotional extremes, the space between desire and brutality. Bartosik’s work focuses on the male/female dynamic with its tension of these separate bodies in proximity to one another, exploring closeness and distance, erotic inclination (as in Ecsteriority 1 & 2, from 2008), and the traces and experiences of others that we accrue through time and memory (The Materiality of Impermanence, 2010).

You are my heat and glare, inspired by a line from Carson’s essay “The Anthropology of Water”, (“What are we made of but hunger and rage”) pits dancers Joanna Kotze and Marc Mann against each other in an aggressive partnership that excavates the dynamics of power and violence in their male/female and black/white bodies, the “extreme pull to both love and violate. I will devour you. I will destroy you.” Singers Dave Ruder and Gelsey Bell develop themes of beauty through simultaneous acts of sound generation, of creation. Throughout, Bartosik shows us hyper-potent relationships using made and inhabited spaces, sex and savagery, and vastness and intimacy as her frames. The piece places before us, in starkly different configurations, two bodies, one male and one female, the history of these bodies as they exist against and for each other, the arguments of the flesh, the want, the yearn, the togetherness, the alienation, the separation, the yielding and merging, the traveling toward and away from, the crumbling of ourselves into nothingness.

In Carson’s terms, we are ourselves. We see one another on the edge where we are both charmed and terrified. The glare behind them, the glare behind us. We move toward each other, we cling together.  We fear the end, we disappear.  We can only die alone. In Bartosik’s terms, we need and require another in order to know and define ourselves. The presence and absence of the other is how we anchor our own lives. I am nothing without you. You are how I see me. I only exist if you do. You are my heat and glare.

Aaron Mattocks