By Brian Oh
As an introduction to the man I am making a film about, I suggest that you search for a New York Times article titled “Poetic Love Affair With New York; For Garcia Lorca, the City Was a Spiritual Metaphor.” I thought about writing an introduction myself, but this article would be a more objective portrait of his time in New York City. The video and the piece of writing below are part of the creative and visual exploration of the film “Lorca in New York”, a work in progress.
In the summer of 2015, I was working in Spain for a theater project with a Spaniard friend of mine. One night, during a leisurely walk with her in Madrid’s Plaza de Santa Ana, I saw a statue of a man with a gentle smile. He was holding a bird – or letting it fly away, rather. Under the statue, it read: “Madrid A Federico Garcia Lorca.” I was taken by the man’s subtle expression as he watched the bird’s departure from his hands. There was supportive encouragement in his smile, but he also seemed aware of the horror that the bird’s flight entailed – layers of life contained in silence.
“I like his smile,” I said.
Excited by my slight interest in the statue, she unveiled a big Spanish grin.
“He’s a poet and playwright from Granada. He was killed by the Franco government because he was a gay writer and had very provocative political views, and his body still hasn’t been found,” she told me.
The rest of our conversation for the night was filled with my endless questions about the man, Federico Garcia Lorca – his literary and political views; his ceaseless desire to love and be loved as a gay man from a small town in Spain; his uncontainable loyalty to the country he belonged to; and his brief period living in New York City. I was hooked. After I returned to New York City, I started searching for anything to learn more about Lorca. I would go to libraries and bookstores, and spend hours reading his poems and plays. However, it wasn’t easy research because I found his surrealistic vocabulary very mysterious and difficult to decode. Lorca even talked about the elusive nature of his poems in a lecture.
“For the quality of a poem can never be judged on just one reading, especially not poems like these which are full of what I call ‘Poetic events’ that respond to a purely poetic logic and follow the constructs of emotion and poetic architecture. Poems like these are not likely to be understood…”
“Poetic events,” Lorca had said.
As an artist attempting to pay homage to another artist I admired, I wanted to make a film about Lorca, though I didn’t have any clear direction. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what was behind my obsession. Perhaps it was just pure curiosity, wanting to find out what it was inside me that responded to his works and life. I kept digging into his mystery as if I were looking for his never-found body.
Fortunately, I had a place to start this journey – the city in which I live. The street corners and bridges where he stood and wrote his poems provided me with at least some tangible connection to him. One night, I stopped my bike ride to look at the massive skyscrapers of the city from the Manhattan Bridge. There, I read one of his poems. The bridge was strangely empty, with no trains passing by.
This is not hell, but the street.
Not death, but the fruit stand.
There is a world of broken rivers and distances just beyond our grasp
In the cat’s paw smashed by a car.
His words started to sink in – not in my brain, but somewhere in my gut. The feeling was violent, but it also calmed me down and felt strangely familiar. It was similar to the sensation I felt when I first moved to New York City, the vibrant yet quiet abyss where I was able to stop asking the question that had haunted my past: Where do I belong?
Growing up in different countries with an exposure to multiple cultures and education systems, I had always asked myself if I would ever fit in anywhere in this world. I was born in the States, grew up in Korea, spent some time in Germany, and then returned to Korea. I left the country after dropping out of college, and finally landed in New York City in 2009 after years of feeling lost and confused. This city helped me stop asking the question because I stopped trying to fit in. Everyone seemed to be part of the city just by being who they were, and being truthful to myself was a strength and beauty that I hadn’t experienced before. Now, the important question for me is to know myself, to truly know who I am.
How hard they try!
How hard the horse tries
to become a dog.
How hard the dog tries to become a swallow.
How hard the swallow tries to become a bee.
How hard the bee tries to become a horse.
And I, on the roof’s edge,
What a burning angel I look for and am.
Lorca said, “Poetic events respond to a purely poetic logic and follow the constructs of emotion and poetic architecture.” That night on the Manhattan Bridge, I became the bird of the statue: the bird who once flew away from his home in order to find a new place to belong to on his own terms, where he could feel the gentle smile and the palms of a Spanish poet. I knew at that point that I had found Lorca in me, both of us together absorbing the waves of wind blowing through the skyscrapers.
Brian Oh was born in Illinois, USA, raised in South Korea and spent time living in Germany as a teenager. Dropping out of college in South Korea, he moved to Chicago to pursue his film studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Soon after graduating from the school, he moved to New York City and has worked on several short films, documentary, music videos and multi-media projects and shown his works to several screenings, exhibitions and public press. Influenced by his nomadic childhood, his work is personal with an emphasis on the psychological process of an artist and elements of the subconscious duality and origin. Currently, he is developing a few personal film projects, while working as a videographer/editor for a wide range of clientele.
Featured image courtesy of Dani.