Editor’s Note

Most of us see and touch cement everyday, we probably feel it the most with our feet. Ubiquitous as both material reality and metaphor, cement (and its corollary, concrete [1]) is a thing that means urban, industry, The Built Environment — it’s how we pave Paradise.[2] [3] [4]

At the time that we devised this theme for Tele-’s fifth issue, I had just begun to play with cement as a more grown-up version of salt dough — an evolution in no small part thanks to a summers-ago carefree cement-play-day with artist, friend, and Tele- 2 contributor Lydia Kern. Realizing that you can just buy some cement from the hardware store, add water, and end up with something hard, heavy, and sibling to the city streets feels a little like realizing that you can start a business just by creating an email address. Foresight, knowledge, and/or meaningful access may be lacking, but some of the tools are — more or less — within reach.

As with our previous issue, Collect Call, this Tele- transmission loops back on itself. Based in Mexico City, Adriana Kong opens and closes the cycle, and what starts with sludgy cement and rebar, flowers, and the distinct scraping noises of industry ends with the sun setting on natural minerals, oranges, and beeps so familiar they’re almost hard to place. The guts of the issue are video, collage, photography, poetry, painting, and essayistic writing generously and freshly concocted by artists from Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Missouri, Los Angeles, Toronto, Madrid, and Ireland. Altogether the constellation of works radiates a glow of tension, or meditation on tension. The overwhelming impulse provoked by cement seems to be to soften, to contradict the material’s closely held associations with natureless, human-made hellscapes by looping in fruit and flora, naked flesh, dripping paint, dirt roads, even the stomach enzymes of a pregnant body. If you pay close attention, you might learn how to make a Moscow mule on the go to, you know, take the edge off.

When Tupac asked Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? he succinctly conjured Black hope and despair in urban America, identifying the penetrability of structures architectured to confine: institutionalized racism, poverty, classism. This year has had a crumbling feel in so many ways. With roses, too, Caitlin Le Dolce pays tribute to workers, reflecting that “As the COVID-19 pandemic eerily unfolds, we watch the US history of capitalist greed prized above human life continue.” How do we widen cracks towards righteous destruction and still keep the things we love? Keep our feet on the ground? What do we do with all that busted concrete? Look on Craigslist, there are already lots of folks trying to offload theirs.

“Cement threatens life and also makes it happen,” Adriana observes in her process notes, “it was hard to think about cement.” With so much focus on cement as a metaphor of division, it is a fun twist that we also use cement to refer to a process of connection. To cement something is to firm it up, to seal the deal, to let whatever gloopy elements harden disparate entities together for a new and indefinitely attached form. It could be a bunch of crushed up little rocks or a relationship or a way of seeing. Thank you to each of the artists for choosing to connect here in this way, and to Tele- founders/co-editors Alexandria and Misha for letting me be a part of it. We hope you enjoy the issue. 

Rachel Jones
Tele- Magazine
December 2020

[1] As noted by Leia Penina-Wilson in her process notes for this issue, cement is the binding agent within concrete. Concrete is generally made with cement and a mixture of rocks and minerals.
[2] I think of a new friend who tried to raze their entire Animal Crossing island, removing every tree and flower in order to crust it over with “paths.” They were ultimately thwarted, since players apparently must meet tree-care milestones to proceed.
[3] I think of my fifth grade teacher in Monkton, Vermont, showing our class a crumble of concrete encased in a snapping plastic box — a souvenir of the Berlin Wall that was also, allegedly, a piece of the Berlin Wall. It had one orange surface, and, poring over a book of photographs, we claimed to find the piece’s origins from within the wall — that’s the piece, that’s where it came from.
[4] I think of being 12 or whatever and positively living to rollerblade at my grandmother’s house in suburban Iowa. Her cul-de-sac and its immediate surroundings was a playground of the smoothest cement I’ve ever known — I still wouldn’t know where to find a surface like that in Vermont.