Love Letters in Ulm

8 Apr

It’s a cloudy, moody day in Ulm; the kind that brings out the green in trees. I’m sitting in an empty house near the park, near the city center. My host family is out and about, living their lives and going to school, and I am loving the quiet nothingness.

my host family

my host family

My host children are circus students of mine, and back in June 2013 the family showed me their guest room and said, “When you come back to Ulm in 6 months, you can stay here, for as long as you like.”

6 months later, the children wrote me: “Are you coming? Are you staying with us?”

Who am I to say no! It has been such an uncomplicated, relaxed and fun stay that I am already sad to leave at the end of the week. An example of how lovely it’s been is a quote I tweeted last night:

Just told my host it’s coincidence that every time they’re about to eat, I walk in. He said: I think it’s evidence of pre-established harmony.

cuddle puddle

cuddle puddle

I’ve been uploading pictures like mad onto Facebook and, looking over the album two nights ago, I realised I could boil my life in Germany down to two things: friends and the circus.

my host girl

my host girl

Or even a fusion: circusfriends.

family portrait

family portrait

The evening I arrived in Ulm, I went straight to the Ulmer Messe for the Kunstschimmern art event, where Mark was showing our films and performing afterwards. It was a great way to see many artist friends at once, but it was also very emotional and I felt on the verge of tears for most of the night.

There I was, the beraggled university student – and people still remembered me as the writer. I was having a lovely conversation with a young lady when a man joined us and she turned and introduced me for me: “This is Ritti, she wrote that book.” I didn’t know she knew who I was! Everyone still remembered my crowdfunding project; everyone still asked me about Qayqa. And there was, the beraggled university student.

So to answer all your questions ABOUT QAYQA.

The Easter holidays are just too short a time to do much with Qayqa in terms of publishing and touring. Lucky for me, Scottish university closes earlier than schools in Germany, leaving me with the whole month of July to perform in Germany. That, at the moment, is the plan. I’ll return to Germany in July, publish and perform Qayqa, and everyone will get their book.

I know it’s taken a lot longer than people wanted, and I myself am quite torn about this. On the one hand, a lot changed in my life: I went from being an artist to a university student! On the other hand, I would have loved to have closed the Qayqa chapter before opening the university one.

But it wasn’t possible. The illustrations weren’t done, and I still had some editing to do on Qayqa. I apologise to the people who have been waiting, but I really am not about to rush the publication of my first novel. I hope they can understand that.

And perhaps it’s good that I couldn’t close the chapter, because this way, Qayqa is alive during my university experience, and I haven’t quite shaken loose of my artist identity. So while it’s a bit crazy to have two identities at once… Perhaps it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life, and I really should be used to it by now.

Robotermark performing at Kunstschimmern

Robotermark performing at Kunstschimmern

Working with Mark has not always been easy. I’ve been keeping relatively quiet about it on my blog, but last night I thought there are some things that can be said.

Mark is my best friend, and – in my opinion – one of the greatest artists of our time. His potential is limitless. The Kunstschimmern was an epic example of this. He can seamlessly slip from the role of film maker to comedy-singer who improvises all his lyrics, makes them rhyme, and inspires other musicians to be swept away by his current…

Mark Klawikowski with his makeshift band concept "Songlotterie"

Mark Klawikowski with his makeshift band concept “Songlotterie”

… to creator of giant robot suits …

robot suit

… to painter, to illustrator

… to my best friend.

Mark & I

Mark & I

Mark creates art I didn’t understand, and through our many conversations over the years, he explained his thoughts, passions, motivations and I came to understand and love an art form I had never cared much for before. We supported and motivated one another, and in our three years together, we made 5 films, won awards, toured Peru, gave workshops in the Netherlands and Germany, gave exhibitions and wrote books.

We were together while I was writing Qayqa and it was clear, from those early days, that he would do the illustrations. Our separation didn’t change that desire – not for either of us – but our separation did block us. For people who don’t understand why the illustration process has taken so long: artists are also people.

That’s not to say I was always understanding and patient. That’s not to say we didn’t occasionally rip each others’ hair out. But we worked – in all senses of the word.

The year I met Mark, the Ulmer Museum had an exhibition whose posters rocked my circle of friends. Everyone I knew was tearing the posters off the walls and hanging them in their rooms. All I can find on the internet is this:

Niki & Jean

Niki & Jean

The exhibiton was called L’art et l’amour, art and love.

Shortly after the exhibition closed, Mark and I drove to Tuscany to visit Niki de Saint-Phalle’s magnificent Tarot Garden. If you’ve never been there, I cannot recommend it enough.

tarot garden



There was a pillar that, over the years, I have never managed to shake out of my head. I just found it in an album; it’s called “Love Letters”.

love letters

It is a dedication from Niki de Saint-Phalle to her artist partner and long-time partner Jean Tinguely.

my brain


Somewhere amongst the Love Letters is a small panel that struck me the most, and I didn’t take a photograph of it, perhaps because I didn’t want to think about it at the time. It is a drawing of both Niki and Jean, and the words above them: CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS? And between them the word: YES.

I knew returning to Ulm would be emotional. This wasn’t something I was going to blog about, but now I understand it’s just an important testimony to artist cooperation, as everything else I have blogged about in the past. To artists who separate and continue working together, all I can say from my experience is: It can work, but it will be work.

Mark and I will always be artist partners because it enriches our lives. With every reason I have to strangle him, he just hugs me back.

And when people hear my frustration about how long the illustrations are taking, about how many deadlines we have missed, they (quite rightly) ask me: “Why do you want him to do the illustrations?? Why don’t you just ask someone else?”

Well we met the other day and Mark showed me the illustrations. All but one are complete. I looked them over and although he had no idea what I was talking about, I blurted: “- Because you get it.”

Every single illustration he showed me shone with love, beauty and understanding for Qayqa. Every single one caused a minor tremble within me that made me, the author, fall in love with Qayqa again. He understood details I had forgotten all about. He understood moods I hadn’t created on purpose. I look at his illustrations and it inspires me for Munay. 

I don’t know if anyone else, looking at the illustrations in the finished book, will feel the minor tremble. I am curious if you do. But through the illustrations I felt a deep connection to my artist partner and best friend – one that has survived all these years – and that’s a damn good connection.

We’re working on the cover for Qayqa now. I had this idea.

photo 1

Sketched, it looked like this.

photo 2

Mark didn’t like it. So we threw ideas back and forth some more, and then I had this idea.

photo 3

I drew it down; Mark laughed at my stick figures and terrible trees. We liked it.

And this, dear ayllu, has been my love letter from Ulm.


One Response to “Love Letters in Ulm”

  1. mblock750 April 13, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Your posts are always so interesting to read! Also, I nominated you for a Liebster Award. If you have time, you should check it out. It’s just a fun way for bloggers to connect and find out more about each other. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: