DISPASSION is a monthly newsletter in which digital media researcher Evan Kleekamp practices emotional detachment.

Digital photograph of sculptural experiments in my last studio circa April 2021.

Earlier this year, wanting to revisit the subjects that had held my attention until the Covid-19 pandemic unmoored my larger research practice, I decided to regularly publish my thoughts in a newsletter. To prepare for this first dispatch, I dug through some of the materials in my archive. There, I found an interview between the painter R.H. Quaytman and curator Bennett Simpson, both founding members of the infamous New York City art gallery Orchard; my writing about temperament as a concept related to architecture, disability, and design; a grant proposal about psychoanalytic concepts embedded in the lecture performance; a grantwriting class that I meant to teach regularly over Zoom; and the above test photograph that was taken when I still had a studio. Though it feels like someone else must have made or assembled these finds, reviewing them reminds me that I was at one point not too long ago quite productive.

While I wanted to resume these activities — maybe even finish Das Kapital and write about Marx’s frequently disregarded skin condition, which would qualify as a disability under contemporary labor law — I also felt it appropriate to review what about these in-progress projects demanded revaluation. In part, because I wanted better language to describe the sprawling, years-long investigation into the social spaces where art, media, and culture hold currency. Too, because I wanted more compelling evidence that my research constitutes a practice — meaning it’s not only recurrent but useful to others. But I was also ready to detach, to let a lot of stuff go.


Underneath these curiosities is the reality of my life with autism. In late 2019, I happened upon some literature about autism and gender identity that helped me accept that I have a lifelong developmental disorder. Nearly three years later, I’m still reshaping my creative practice to accommodate my disability, and the idea of reclaiming control over how my work meets its public audience has become one of my primary interests.

Writing about how autism influences my life is difficult, emotionally absorbing work. That difficulty has its attendant social pressures — not seeking to redeem, infantilize, or justify autism while also giving myself permission to acknowledge the profound and deleterious impact it has had on my life are things I have to practice everyday. Taken together, those social pressures have undone my political compass, forcing me to reconcile what I aspire to do and who I want to be with what I am capable of doing and who I really am. Being creative is subordinate to that reconciliation process, as is explaining deeply personal aspects of my daily life to strangers, especially for free. But I hope that others who find themselves at a similar impasse can find a unique form of support here.

In addition to my awareness of my body changing, I found that there were a number of source materials to which I could longer dedicate attention. While I spent much of 2019 gathering information about conceptual painters like Quaytman, Michael Krebber, Jutta Koether, and Merlin Carpenter, that research fell apart when I later attempted to seek, and failed to receive, an autism diagnosis. (Covid overwhelmed medical providers; no one ever said that I wasn't autistic, only that the topic was outside their expertise and would have to be taken up elsewhere.)

In other instances, I began letting my interest in these subjects wane because they were no longer intellectually stimulating or financially remunerative. What, for example, could I say about Quaytman that hadn’t already been said? My access to her work is mediated by what others more networked than myself have written about her. And why should I insert myself into dialogue about artists whom I will likely never meet when our need for one another is no way reciprocal?

Sometimes I had done enough research to disprove my thesis and had to redefine my inquiry. I tossed out a proposal meant to facilitate a Discord channel for disabled artists because I realized it would require tons of administrative labor. I abandoned an experimental lecture on whiteness and temperament because it no longer felt restorative to me. But this makes sense: if preservation includes tossing aside what no longer holds meaning or value, then detachment means accepting that loss as a boon which indiscriminately reveals meaning and value. As I argued in my lecture performance proposal, loss develops our aesthetic sensibility and taste; it guides our sense of what must be preserved in prosthetic memory.

Since pandemic-related stress has drastically reduced attention spans and caused emotions to run high, the task of sorting through ideas and reducing them to their functional, indifferent core seemed all the more alluring to me. But I also have detected a deeper silence among the critics I respect. Everyone is tired. The buzz around phenomena like cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens has further segregated the crowd of artist-practitioners I respect from the racketeers who mistake their proximity to the art market for talent. Which is probably why I daydream about a group of artists forming their own investment fund so frequently these days. I desperately want something other than the status quo to take hold.


To exercise dispassion is to acknowledge then detach from one’s emotions. To exercise dispassionate self-preservation is to permit oneself to feel and sense, to cool and distance, and then only later attempt to discern what, if anything, is consequential after the fact. By collecting my thoughts here and reviewing them retroactively, my goal is to cultivate a sharper critical approach that welcomes contradiction and slow decision-making. It is also meant to chill my rage into a functional, precise instrument.

The title of the newsletter, DISPASSION, alludes to this state of mind, which I hope to inhabit while I go about cataloguing what can stay and what must be, at least for now, relegated to the margins of my practice. The newsletter will also serve as a space where I can question the labor my research attempts to perform and consider which formats it may take — a search that is all the more meaningful because autism impairs my ability to process sensory information and maintain fine motor control over, say, a pencil or paint brush. It has taken me a long time to accept just how profoundly these inabilities affect me. Even longer to permit myself the discomfiting feelings that come with discovering I can neither adequately see nor draw a human face, that for me just standing up for a few moments will always be difficult, and that I must survive all these challenges to my humanity with a smile lest I make myself vulnerable to further ostracism.

At the same time, my job at Study Hall has taken up a larger portion of my working week. Luckily, my work there involves frequent conversation with freelance digital media laborers about how they monetize their creative practice. Because I’m so immersed in these money conversations and I’m a vocal proponent of paying people, including myself, to conduct experimental research, DISPASSION will be sent exclusively to paying subscribers. Hiding things behind a paywall is fundamental to the larger experiment: I want to know if and how subscription models could support my clients, and the best way to test that is to use my own projects as an example. You can of course forward the emails to whomever you want — you’re paying for the direct connection.

By subscribing to DISPASSION, you will likely receive deconstructed grant proposals; snippets from lectures I’m transcribing; articles and tweets toward which I am trying to develop detachment; reflections on what I’ve learned as a writer, researcher, and autist; meditations on my near-daily swimming practice; my bungled attempts at photography; excerpts from my writing projects, including my in-progress novel (which the readers at Creative Capital seemed to enjoy); and lots of other tidbits that I will organize to the best of my ability. I’ll probably also offer classes and conduct surveys from time to time. People who feel invested in the project are welcome to message me about recurring consultations bundled with their subscriptions.


One of the reasons I swim is to give myself time to think, emote, and detach. In the pool, I often find myself laughing uncontrollably at the thought that I am merely practicing drowning. Today, almost two weeks after I started writing this opening salvo, I swam the 50-meter length of an Olympic-size pool for the first time and a similar humor erupted in me. I thought that only fifteen minutes had passed, but my watch confirmed that I had been in the pool for almost an hour. By sharing my writing here, I hope I can help others access something like the blind optimism I rehearse in the water. If I can post to Twitter less and monetize that abstinence, then, dear reader, much more is possible in life than I initially expected. If I permit myself at least 45 minutes apiece of mental and physical exercise each day, what can my efforts produce? That is the experiment in a nutshell. Anyway, this is me disclosing my intentions. If you’re interested in tagging along, please consider subscribing via Ghost.