Instantaneous, Present and Direct:
From the notebooks of Cathy Josefowitz

With reflections by Jeremy O. Harris

All artwork courtesy the Estate of Cathy Josefowitz and Hauser & Wirth

  • Jun 15, 2023
  • Ursula: Issue 8

This series of Josefowitz's pastels on paper, taken from her notebooks, were enacted in Boston, New York and Dartington, England, in 1978 and 1979. She initiated the collages in France and continued them in Switzerland from 2004 to 2012. American playwright Jeremy O. Harris muses on the works, resulting in an accompanying series of reflective vignettes he calls the "Cathy Meditations."

The lyrical, unsettling work of Cathy Josefowitz (1956–2014) remains little known in the United States, the country of her birth. She was born in New York and at three moved with her family to Switzerland, where she developed an early love of drawing, influenced by her parents’ paintings, then by Surrealism, Cocteau, Boris Vian, Jean-Louis Barrault, Nijinsky and others. At sixteen, she entered the Théâtre National de Strasbourg to study theatre design, then moved to Paris and entered the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Her first works were large expressionist and figurative paintings on craft paper, featuring motifs of the circus, games, costumes and eroticism. In 1977, harboring doubts about painting, she went to Boston, where she discovered dance and primal theater. She moved back to New York for a year, and then in 1979, at the age of twenty-three, she went to England to study dance at the Dartington College of Arts in Devon. There, she met two postwar dance pioneers: Steve Paxton, a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater in New York, and Mary Fulkerson, a founder of “anatomical release technique,” which influenced dance movement therapy. These were years of great experimentation for Josefowitz, particularly through her interest in dance. This period was also notable for the numerous pastels she created in her notebooks, numerous examples of which can be seen in these pages.

AN INDETERMINATE LONGER: Jeremy O. Harris on the work of Cathy Josefowitz - “I’m calling these the ‘Cathy Meditations.’ I looked at these paintings and drawings every few days, and in the morning I wrote lines inspired by them.” —Jeremy O. Harris

- “Date-night makeup” Red lip Heavy eye Never bold.

“Sometimes I think about dying.”

The monotony of the world around us. The collection of sounds that make up a day that slowly wear at our sense of self.

Is there not a more humorous way to contemplate why we all must be here?

“I don’t want to be from you!”

“Some poetics on immigration”

A man on a plane His English Accented in a Indistinguishable Middle-Eastern accent Tapped me From across the aisle Then whispered, “People move to France only if they have some poetics or something poetical about them.”

“An indeterminate longer”

I no longer worried about money, yet money brought me worries. So I knew the house in the Cotswolds could not be photographed. I could see the likes that would come from a post of me in the kitchen pouring milk from some grand jar above a caption that said “Cotswolds Creamery 🤪”. The notification high as my lock screen experiences an ecstatic orgasm. Then the deflation.

I looked up and six months had passed. I had decided. I would stay longer. How long mattered less than the fact that it was decided. Definitive decisions were uncommon for me. And yet.

The sounds of birds fucking, dying, then mourning, filled my ears as I wandered up the stairs, readying myself for sleep.

I wanted to live in the countryside for the month of July. When else might a boy from North Carolina have the opportunity to wake up and have a “morning constitutional” before taking to the lawns to sojourn with a novella.

Cigarette smoke kept webbing its way into the flat as I sat next to the window battling the country cold and watching a Japanese man die of lung cancer.

There he was on shrooms crying. How typical.

There are moments when your eyes die right before mine. As you ascended the steps I saw life fading away. I wonder which dagger I threw that did it? How did I end you? We are forever in the midst of dying and being reborn with each other. I’m not sure if this is healthy or destructive, but it feels like love.

We became metal forks against porcelain plates whenever we went to dinner, the only sound that accompanied being the occasional sigh at Instagram.

I had barely seen the Amalfi coast and already it bored me. White people have a gift for creating myths of the mundane. Perhaps I will join them with this text.

Last Thursday I woke up wealthy and decided to start living as though my trust had finally opened. Perhaps I’ll become a dancer?

“We are forever in the midst of dying and being reborn with each other. I’m not sure if this is healthy or destructive, but it feels like love.” —Harris

“Is there not a more humorous way to contemplate why we all must be here?” —Harris

Jeremy O. Harris performing "Cathy Meditations" at the "Cathy Josefowitz. Forever Young" opening at Hauser & Wirth New York 69th Street, May 11, 2023

- American playwright Jeremy O. Harris’ full-length plays include Slave Play (which received twelve Tony nominations), “Daddy,” Black Exhibition, Xander Xyst, Dragon:1 and Water Sports; or insignificant white boys. Harris cowrote A24’s Zola (2020) with director Janicza Bravo and is currently developing a pilot with A24 for HBO. Awarded the Vineyard Theatre’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award and a 2016 MacDowell Colony Fellowship, Harris is an Orchard Project Greenhouse artist, a resident playwright with Colt Coeur and is under commission from Lincoln Center Theater and Playwrights Horizons.