Sayre Quevedo is an artist whose work illuminates human relationships - delving into complex family histories, lost love and loneliness. In a year when many of us have had to reckon with the experience of being alone, questioning how we move through the world, how we love and care for the people around us, Sayre reflects on the relationship his art has always had with a feeling of isolation.
Some people fall in love with their loneliness and other people run away from it. I make art with my loneliness, which is my way of doing both. I turn into and away from the element of living that most haunts me. I alchemize this bitter offering, turn it into medicine. I let others taste and in sharing it am comforted. It’s familiar to them too.
Some people call my work intimate, but I think what they really mean is that it’s lonely. These are not the stories we like to tell. They invite an uncomfortable self-awareness, a state of harsh and absolute clarity.
My first personal audio piece, ‘Espera’, was both an act of and a document of loneliness. It’s the story of two kinds of isolation: shared and individual. First, the solitary insular worlds built between two people. And then, the paths that we take by ourselves into and out of these damaged relationships. Two currents converge and deepen each other. Two mirrors face to face reveal a truer reflection. These unions produce a shameless honesty. But the hope is that we can learn to arrive at these truths on our own. That’s where documentary and loneliness intersect. I let myself swell with rain and overspill the floodplain. I construct my own reflections to stare into.
I arrive at the end of most days with an oppressive sense of loneliness. Not the acute pang of leaving the bar alone on a Friday night or moving to somewhere where you don’t know anyone. It is the grand and overflowing loneliness. I let it wash over me and it yields desires. They make me ashamed: for everything to make sense, 'to go back to normal', to fuck a stranger, to hug a friend. Just typing them makes me cringe because I know they are uncomplicatedly naïve desires. But they are desires nonetheless. I thank my loneliness because these are truths I would otherwise avoid. This unforgiving state and I are acquainted enough that I can hold it in my hands. I can raise it up to the light and examine it. What secrets and revelations are hidden inside? That is the question I try to answer with my work.
Speaking of which, I haven’t made anything in months. I’ve worked on things. Some of them are even mostly complete. But more than work I find myself indulging my loneliness — chain smoking and looking at the moon, wandering from one room in my apartment to the other, eating the same meal every night (chicken, coconut rice, ginger, zucchini) to keep a semblance of consistency in my life.
I call friends and leave voicemails. Sometimes I record myself after a glass of wine and I talk and talk until I don’t have anything left to say.
Sometimes I scroll through old recordings in my phone, choose one at random and just start listening. This is my favourite activity.
It’s 5 minutes of sitting in a taxi cab. An idea for something I thought would mean so much more 6 months ago. A drunken conversation with a friend.
There’s this passage from the book Pond where the author Claire Louise-Bennett finds letters from an ex-lover in an old coat. She starts reflecting on why she keeps these artifacts and realises that it’s because they represent something that never happened. Their potency is in the possibilities they contain, the alternate versions of what could have been. This sense of loss allows her to wade deeper into her own dreams and visions.
'So even though it sometimes feels as if one could just about die from disappointment,' she writes, 'I must concede that in fact in a rather perverse way it is precisely those things I did not get that are keeping me alive.'
Loneliness is about what is just out of reach and paradoxically what we reach for is our life force. Documentary is an exercise that like loneliness gives dimensions to our insecurity, fear, and hope. When it’s done right it’s a purifying kind of distillation. We morsel away the distractions and the comfortable narratives we’ve built about who we are. At the end of the day, what are we still holding onto? What have we stored away in the pocket of an old winter coat? What are we reaching for when no one is looking?
Art and solitude are practices that we hone, devotional acts performed in dedicated silence. The work, what we make of it, is the altar where we divine its meaning, where we cast this necessary distance between ourselves and what we are. The act and the altar become a vessel in which we can surrender shame and judgment and, if we are devout, heal ourselves and others.
I have fully anchored myself in a practice that is challengingly simplistic. To push myself and others to stare at what they would rather turn away from. To listen back and let it stir something inside us. To communicate desire without pretense. All I ask from my life and my work is honesty. And so I toast to my loneliness: what waits for me on the other side of solitude is not sorrow but understanding. I need only the patience to stop and listen for it.
Sayre Quevedo is an artist and journalist. He works across mediums to tell stories about intimacy, identity, and human relationships.
In 2018 his piece 'Espera' received the Third Coast/RHDF Directors' Choice Award and his other piece 'The Quevedos' was nominated for a Best Audio Documentary award by the International Documentary Association (IDA). The following year he won the 2019 Third Coast/RHDF Gold Award for Best Documentary for 'The Return' . It was also nominated for a Best Audio Documentary award by the IDA, his second nomination two years in a row.
Quevedo was the Fall 2019 Podcaster-In-Residence for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and an Associate Producer for The Daily at The New York Times and Latino USA. He currently works as a producer for VICE.