ABOUT JOHN ASHBERY’S CREATED SPACES
The two domestic environments where John Ashbery lived and worked for the longest periods of his life—his Created Spaces (one located in Hudson, NY and one in New York, NY)—offer important insights into his art. These purposefully constructed spaces that housed Ashbery's domestic archive both reflect and are reflected in his writing, which itself is heavily involved with other literature, music, the visual and decorative arts, architecture, theater, and film. Carefully chosen, and developed over many years, Ashbery's Created Spaces nourished and stimulated his creativity; they also continue to provide one of the most personally meaningful of contexts for his work.
These Created Spaces existed as fully dimensional poetic worlds that could be experienced in real time—artworks as visual "poems"—revealing much about the essential qualities of Ashbery's poetry of words. In them, he arranged vocabularies of individual components according to a distinctive syntax of composition, within architectural spaces that determine the overall form of the work. They convey a remarkably coherent view of Ashbery's sensibilities, aesthetics, and creative processes. While these spaces may no longer by physically accessible in their original form, they can currently be virtually explored through the “John Ashbery’s Nest” digital humanities project (see below).
John Ashbery’s Nest
John Ashbery’s Nest is a website and virtual tour of the American poet’s Hudson, NY home created as a collaboration of the Yale Digital Humanities Lab, VRH Solutions, and Yale ITS under the guidance of Karin Roffman.
In 1978, when John Ashbery purchased his first and only house, he began an intensive project of creating his ideal vision of a home. Although not well known as a collector, he had actually begun to study American antiques in childhood, composing some of his earliest poems about objects he found. From the 1950s to the 1980s, he also amassed hundreds of new, small collections while also writing about them (ceramics, wallpaper, etc.) in art reviews, in essays for popular magazines on eclectic collectors and their homes, and in provocative new poems. Painstakingly restored over a fifteen-year period, his house became a frame for these assemblages, providing a place to display his discoveries and continue to learn from them.
While the Hudson House has always been a private space, this project provides, through a website highlighting Ashbery’s creation of each room (including photographs, biographical details, archival records, and audio clips of Ashbery and his partner, David Kermani, discussing each room), both crucial documentation and an experience of how he has used and imagined the home. Links to related poetic texts demonstrate how deeply objects and houses have resonated in Ashbery’s artistic life.
Using new virtual reality technologies to explore rooms and interact with objects inside the house, this project—which began with a prototype view of the Center Hall and continues to expand further into the house—enables users to experience the intimacy of being in “the middle of things,” a reality that echoes in Ashbery’s greatest poems.
Each room includes 360-degree photography, panoramas, and still photography. A viewer may:
move through each room and view objects closely
listen to audio of John Ashbery and David Kermani discussing the provenance of objects
read additional archival information on objects and rooms
explore links to related Ashbery’s poems to highlight the relationship between physical objects and poetic imagination.
Future plans include expanding the project to include virtual reality touring of Ashbery’s created space in New York City.
So that if there was an attempt to widen
the gap. Reel in the scenery
It’s unlike us to reel in the difference.
We got the room
in other hands, to exit like a merino ghost.
What was I telling you about?
Walks in the reeds. Be
contumely about it.
You need a chaser.
In other words, persist, but rather
a dense shadow fanned out.
Not exactly evil, but you get the point.
— John Ashbery’s final poem, written in his home in Hudson, NY (© 2017 Estate of John Ashbery. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Georges Borchardt, Inc.)
Down by the Station Early in the Morning
It all wears out. I keep telling myself this, but
I can never believe me, though others do. Even things do.
And the things they do. Like the rasp of silk, or a certain
glottal stop in your voice as you are telling me how you
didn’t have time to brush your teeth but gargled with Listerine
instead. Each is a base one might wish to touch once more
before dying. There’s the moment, years ago in the station in Venice,
the dark rainy afternoon in fourth grade, and the shoes then,
made of a dull crinkled brown leather that no longer exists.
And nothing does, until you name it, remembering, and even then
it may not have existed, or existed only as a result
of the perceptual dysfunction you’ve been carrying around for years.
The result is magic, then terror, then pity at the emptiness,
then air gradually bathing and filling the emptiness as it leaks,
emoting all over something that is probably mere reportage
but nevertheless likes being emoted on. And so each day
culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one,
as the wrecking ball bursts through the wall with the bookshelves
scattering the walls of famous authors as well as those
of more obscure ones, and books with no author, letting in
space, and an extraneous babble from the street
confirming the new value the hollow core has again, the light
from the lighthouse that protects as it pushes away.
— from A Wave (© 1984 Estate of John Ashbery. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Georges Borchardt, Inc.)