Naima Morelli

I’m working on a new book + lessons learned

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This is a public service announcement (with guitar! As the Clash would say); I’m working on a new book. It will revolve around my research on contemporary art in Singapore and will explore some concepts I started looking at in my previous book, Arte Contemporanea in Indonesia, un’introduzione.

Of course, having a second “baby” might look easier if you already had that kind of experience. But a second book comes with its new challenges. On top of that, I also had an aborted book which still is very much a looming presence. (Should we stop once and for all with these stupid baby metaphors when talking about book projects?)

“Emerging Artists in Melbourne” was the working title of that poor thing which never saw the light of the day. Many might call that project a failure. Personally I learned a lot from it, but it also made me aware that you can fail. Back when I was working at my first book, I felt invincible. I felt I had Rogue’s superstrength, Wolverine’s healing factor and Jean Grey’s psychic abilities. Of course, the only thing I really had was Quicksilver’s excessive self-confidence. Whatever it was, it worked for the Indonesia book. Except that it didn’t for the Melbourne book.

So what exactly were the lessons learned from that failed project? The most important of all was definitely: work steadily. I lived eight months in Australia, collecting interviews and materials. Therefore I was supposed to have long-lasting enthusiasm for the project. Because I was working on the book discontinuously, the enthusiasm actually faded after a mere year and a half . On top of that, I already had used my best Australian material for articles for various magazines. I  didn’t really felt to go through the same interviews over and over again. Also, being most of the people I interviewed emerging artists, in one year they almost all of them went through major changes in their lives, careers and opinions. Some felt what they said a year earlier didn’t correspond to their opinion anymore.

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But the most relevant thing was that I lose momentum. Working on the book on and off, I never really allowed myself to fall in love with the theme of the book. Even if I spent two full diciplined months transcribing all the interviews word by word and had some really great time absorbed in the writing, I have always considered the Melbourne book a side project. In the meantime in fact I was curating shows and starting to freelance seriously. I also moved to Rome and fell under the spell of the city again. I found myself talking about the Rome art scene in a book who was supposed to be about Melbourne. To put it simply, I had just lost the inspiration and the passion for the project. And while the book proposal looked good on paper, I didn’t even send it to one publisher. I just didn’t want to write that damn book.

In summer, loosening the grip on journalism, I dived back into the book. I asked my friend Diana to become my accountability partner, in order to push each other with our projects. It didn’t work. Wandering around Naples with my friend curator Roberto D’Onorio, he suggested me to do a nimbler book, just a book of interviews like Lea Vergine’s “Body Art”. This idea excited me. I tried to work on it for a couple of weeks, then realized I still didn’t want to do it. I just couldn’t. I dropped it. Roberto said it was a mistake. Actually “shitty move” is how he phrased it. On my end though I felt so relieved. I didn’t wanted to waste any more time. I wholeheartedly jumped right onto my next project. A reportage on contemporary art in Singapore.
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The realisation that if you don’t fall in love with your book and nurture this love daily, the book dies, still worries me a bit. (The baby metaphor ain’t that stupid after all. If you still can’t accept it, Tamagotchi can be an alternative) For the Singapore book, I’m trying to keep the subject of my investigation relevant for myself every day and constantly keep processing the information in my head, even if I’m not physically working on the writing. Discussing the book with friends and regularly reading about the subject matter helps too. It’s always bit of a struggle of course. All I’d like to do is dedicate myself to the book, day and night, but I have my journalistic duties, rent and ninjutsu lessons to pay. And don’t get me wrong, I love journalism. It is the foundation, a job that I built from scratches for myself and I really enjoy.

In the end, I’m aware that all writers work around limitations and find a way to get shit done anyways. The prospect of shooting for the starts and miss them is real, I don’t deny it. But that’s the challenge, right? I’m trying to simplify my commitments and life to the maximum and make the first half of 2016 only about journalism and the book (not to forget ninjutsu clearly). That doesn’t mean I won’t be opened to stimuli and the occasional adventure or experience that can enrich the book. Well, guess I still have a whole lot of that Quicksilver overconfidence powder in store!

images 1,2,3 are works by Pascale Marthine Tayou