Artist, Curator & Publisher Caroline Partamian Sends Sonic Transmissions from the California High Desert

Q(uar) & A is a series of interviews with some of our favorite storytellers and creators about how they’re living while in lockdown.

Caroline Partamian is a sound and visual artist influenced by her training in dance. She works closely with the concept of abreaction — the extraction of dormant memory stored within a muscle, resurfaced through physical movement, of which an individual was previously unaware. These memories span the spectrum and can take many forms — traumatic, erotic, comforting, etc. By focusing on the process rather than the anticipated result, her work encourages what can be revealed when one becomes conscious of their kinetic movement in the process of creation. 

She has shown work at Marfa Open, Wassaic Project, Otion Front, Flux Factory, Anthology Film Archives, Babycastles, Compound Yucca Valley, and more. She also runs a small publishing press, Weird Babes, in the form of zines and prints featuring artists’ and her very own works in progress and experiments.

Where are you currently sheltering in place?

I am currently living in Yucca Valley, in the California high desert with my partner, Ethan, and our dog, Beverly Crusher. 

What does your face mask look like? 

My face mask is two-tone denim and floral cloth interior I made from old clothes scraps found in my childhood closet in LA where my parents still live — I dusted off an old sewing machine I had used only once in my life prior to the pandemic. Also, I didn’t have proper bands so I cut up an old high-school bra and used that as the straps to wrap around my ears. Works great.

Do you follow any kind of routine at this moment? 

Space-time continuum barely exists right now, so I have no absolute sense of routine. Every day is different, but feels very productive. I spend time gardening in the early mornings or early evenings when it’s not too hot out, walk the dog twice a day, tend to personal projects. I just got a Risograph machine out here so I’ve been experimenting with some new prints, printing and recreating sound drawings for people who order them, working on a publication for my Armenian artists group I founded in Brooklyn with a friend.

I try to pay attention to my body on a daily basis but it’s difficult — I do plies while I make my coffee, try to do sit-ups and balance exercises daily, and have recently begun diving into Tai Chi with Master Lam on YouTube. 
We eat very healthy and delicious meals. I fell into the whims of a sourdough starter and kombucha scoby… In summary, I think I have a good balance of taking care of myself and other things in my vicinity.

My partner and I also started a radio station out here for the high-desert community called Other Desert Radio — we update programming every Monday so that is the only absolute I actually have right now! 

What are some pieces of entertainment that you have consumed and loved during this time?

For the radio station we have been consuming and gathering a lot of various sounds. After George Floyd’s death, we made a sonic collage of words and speeches from folks from James Baldwin to Kwame Ture to Patrisse Cullors to bell hooks to Richard Pryor, and more. Since we live in a place that only has a Top 40 radio station and super white conservative religious radio, having an outlet to transmit other types of dialogue has been vital.

We also love Midnight Dine, now on Netflix; I like the humility of this show. And our dog Beverly cracks me up a lot. She sleeps most of the day but then will have bouts of energy that come out nowhere where she starts doing 360s in the air. 

Are you working on anything during this time? And if you’re having trouble “creating” things at the moment, how are you getting around it?

My partner and I went to Austria this past winter and recorded a pipe organ record. We planned to mix it at the beginning of March once we had wrapped up some residencies, but that coincided with the beginning of quarantine. And just as I thought I had a hold on things, the past month happened and I’ve had to focus on things greater than myself. 

Other Desert Radio has been a huge focus during this time as well, and learning ways we can build and strengthen community even from a physical distance. We just taught a class at Pioneer Works about the imaginative as well as active forums radio can provide, and that was really fun. I’m also working on a publication with my Armenian artists group that has been in the works for quite some time. 

Have you taken up any new hobbies? 

Like I mentioned earlier I have fallen victim to a sourdough starter and kombucha scoby, but I have gotten damn good at using both. I also make really good kimchi now, taught to me by a friend in the high desert.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten so far during quar? What’s the worst?

Every meal is the best but: gravy (this is what we call tomato sauce for pasta — as they do in The Sopranos), enchiladas, stuffed peppers, quinoa, and garbanzo beans, and kimchi fried rice are all highlights. My first initial sourdough fail was perhaps the “worst” — it still tasted great but the structure was very, very sad, and the process was very, very demoralizing.

What’s your current iPhone wallpaper and what’s the story behind it?

This is a pic of Beverly with the Wall Street Baths wool hat on. We took this pretty soon after we got her in early May. She looks very silly in it and it makes me laugh every time I go to unlock my phone. It also makes me miss New York and the schvitz, a place I don’t imagine reopening safely any time soon.

What’s the best quar purchase you’ve made so far? 

A digital kitchen scale — it has made my sourdough baking possible and precise. And my Risograph machine — it only took 89 back-and-forth Craigslist emails (a record-breaking number for me), but it happened.

Who are the writers, storytellers, or makers who are bringing you great joy right now?

I’ve been revisiting a lot of texts on translation during this time, from Walter Benjamin to Korean poet Don Mee Choi.

In this time of physical distance and political turmoil, I believe that when speaking to any humans within the microcosms of our small communities or our social media networks, it is more important than ever to practice compassionate language, and to never assume you know anything about the individual to whom you are speaking. This compassion can be filled with rage at times, I’m sure, but I feel like educating ourselves on the power that language carries, the wounds that it too carries, helps us to better gauge our position in the world, to be better able to support ourselves and our communities.  

Any unexpectedly memorable moments so far?

Seeing a desert tortoise, a snowy white owl, and a Mojave green (rattlesnake) all within the same month, all within less than a mile from our home here on our daily walks with Beverly. The first two carry omens of wisdom, longevity, and patience, while the Mojave green carries meanings of warning. I like holding these meanings in light of one another.

Follow Caroline on Instagram @isabellarosselini.