To and From R.F.

by Arthur Ou & Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Masts and anchors, counterfeit and coin, man and snowman: Nova Scotia, window on the sea.

"To and From R.F." was commissioned by Triple Canopy as part of its Internet as Material project area, supported in part by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston.

Mabou, Sept. 7, 1975

My good old friend,

I received the maquette just as I was leaving for the isolated island where we are shooting a movie. There is nothing on the island except a few shacks and a lighthouse. Very poetic calm—in the middle of the water and hundreds of seagulls—and for a few days we could see a great number of whales pass very close to the island.
      Nobody, except us. (The film crew.)
      As soon as I came back I had a look at the maquette. And—it is difficult for me to have a creative, positive, constructive, etc... opinion about these pictures—which have become my "Rubber Stamp." In other words: I am no longer capable to respond like I wished I could. I am glad I did these pictures and I am glad you are publishing them again. The distance between me and these photos is the past multiplied by everything that has happened
      Silence—Joy—and pain.
           The present is stronger
           than the popularising of established Art.
      My good old friend—when do we see each other?
March 1947

Dear Parents,

Never have I experienced so much in one week as here. I feel as if I'm in a film. Life here is very different than in Europe. Only the moment counts, nobody seems to care about what he'll do tomorrow. Now you want to know what I've been doing. For the past five days, I have been looking for a job and have not found one yet. The situation is not very favorable, because business has not been doing well. This country is really a free country. A person can do what he wants. Nobody asks to see your identification or your papers. The people here have representatives from every race and every nation. Whether you've been here for eight days or eight years, you are always treated like an American! There is only one thing you should not do—criticize anything. The Americans are extremely proud of their country! The whole way of life here is based on saving time. Only fast and as simple as possible. Bus, streetcar, and subway all cost the same amount, and tickets are not necessary. Doors open by themselves, newspapers are read and thrown away and then are immediately burned by street cleaners, on the open street in giant wastebaskets. There are no garbage cans, everything goes down an individual chute and is burned directly. Mailboxes are too small, so you have to place packages by the side of the street and they are picked up every 10 minutes, etc., etc. Nothing is impossible. They have electric toothbrushes and nail clippers, etc. In 10 minutes, you have eaten and there are three men standing behind you, waiting for you to leave. (Not in the expensive restaurants.) I can only tell you this: you have to see for yourself. I would not want to live here forever. For older people who do not have $, it is terrible here. Nobody has any consideration for anybody else. Old or young, man or woman, here it is everyone for himself. It is inconceivable, the tempo at which life takes place. And nevertheless, the people are much nicer and kinder than in ——————. For example, today I went to an address I got from ——————. The man was not

home, only his wife. The door opened, I said who I am, and suddenly I was seated at the table and drinking coffee with the woman. By the way,they are very rich people with a giant apartment and a few servants. In New York, only millionaires could afford an apartment like ours.
I must have had unbelievably good luck with my room. Very cheap (7 dollars a week) and right in the heart of the city, directly opposite of Rockefeller Center! Unfortunately, I can only stay until April 31. In fact, I owe this to my visit in ————— to the photographer —————. In addition, I have been invited to ——————'s. Life here is expensive. Just to eat normally costs a dollar. Last week, I took a bus or subway at least eight times a day. Cost: 40 cents! I need a new shirt every two or three days and laundry costs about 3 dollars each time. It costs 70 cents for a haircut. Only that you should know that the dollar is not even worth four francs. In order to live in New York, you have to earn 50 dollars a week. Theater, etc., is very expensive. Movies on Broadway are, too. The city is monstrously big and, for example, when I go to ——————'s I need half a day to get there. I will write again next week, I am tired from all the living and riding around in New York. Please send me the tripod and all of my negatives (in the wooden case) in my room.

Love you.
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