Prompted: You wake up covered in paint

All you want is some peace and quiet, you know? You’re sitting there, hanging with the terps and the other canvies, and you’re chilling. You’re all a little high, see what I’m saying? Can’t help it, those terps are always high, you catch a contact off them no matter what. Whetheryou like it or not. It’s not a bad life. Sure, some got it better than others. Canvie 98/4 over there, he’s hanging on the wall, just chilling, but every day the skins come in and boy do they worship him. They can’t get enough of him! They’re always talking about what a piece of work he is. Or maybe work of art? I don’t know, man, you can’t expect a canvie to get things straight in this kind of situation. Anyway, point is, I was just minding my own business, you see? Just hanging out, just chilling, and suddenly, I get snatched up from my comfy spot where I was getting to know this new canvie, a real beauty she was too, this really rare oval and tight man, tight like a drum. So I get snatched up just as she’s beginning to warm to me, and I just know that old bastard River Scene At Dawn will go for her because he’s been really nasty ever since he got retired and can’t even enjoy his high anymore, always just talking about the good old days.

So anyway, I get put up right in the light and next thing you know the turps are there with me and damn if I don’t get smothered with them! I mean it’s great for a while, sure, best high I ever had, but you know, it does wear off and eventually I wake up from the drowsy and find I’m covered in paint. All over me, just covered, top to bottom, end to end, and not just that but I find out next thing that they’ve changed my name too! Now I’m not 563/2, I’m bloody Nude On a Bathtub Rim! What kind of name is that, I ask you? Nothing, nothing, not even the wall and the attention, is worth this.

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An Open Letter to Yael Bartana

Dear Yael,

I am an Israeli-American. I was born in Los Angeles, live in Givatayim, go to university in New York but will be studying in England next year.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I am part of two worlds – I have two homes and no home, two countries and no country. This is a kind of internal enigma that I haven’t yet gotten around to exploring yet – the seeds of what I want to do with this puzzling idea are still revolving in my mind, floating in some sort of wind. Hopefully they will find some fertile ground and grow there one day.

Today, I was stunned. My mother and I went to see your exhibition at the Helena Rubinstein in Tel Aviv. I took three Manifesto posters in each language so that I’d be able to give some away to people I love. The ideas that you represented – and the way you represented them – were so beautiful, so thought-provoking, and so intensely personal to someone who has lived here most of her life and felt both aliened and forcibly integrated. During the films, I was constantly thinking, wondering, trying to figure out the future that I was seeing in the foreshadowing clues that were in the barbed wire, the spotlight, the arm-band, the assassination. But I also yearned so dearly to hope, to be among my generation – the candle-lighters, the optimists, the naive, the third generation who are furthest from the past traumas but still, somehow, touched by them.

I wanted to go to Hebron after I left those rooms, posters clutched tightly furled under my arm – I didn’t have a rubber band – and find the first Palestinian youth who would trust me and ask him to take my hand. We would go and buy two tickets to Poland. We’d call our families and friends once we got there. Maybe if he escaped from his ghost town and I escaped from this country that ignores its ghosts, we’d be able to show others, as you did, that the possibility was real. How naive. But what a wonderful wish.

I have written to authors before. I’ve never written to an artist before. I hope that, if you do read this, my respect and admiration for you comes through my words. You have inspired something within me – the flame of anger always burning towards this country, but also the drops of innocence and hope that try to dampen that fire. Most of all, you’ve awoken my imagination and my thought, and for that I must thank you from the bottom of my heart. A work of art has not touched me so in a long, long time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you,

Ilana

__________

Yael Bartana is the creator of “And Europe Will be Stunned” which premiered at the Venice Biennale.

Photo Oomph [Flash Fiction]

“Your voice makes me think of sex,” I told him right after he introduced himself as Thomas, the guy I was supposed to be meeting. It was the year that I’d decided being honest was the best thing to be under all circumstances.
“Oh no, I’m going to kill Vic’… I hate to break it to you, love, but I’m gay.”
“I know, don’t kill Vicky, she’s a sweetheart.”
“But you just-”
“I wasn’t coming onto you. You just have a good voice.”
That was how Thomas and I met. He still says that he’s never been so turned on by another woman as he was by me telling him that his voice made me think of sex. But it did, and it still does. It makes it difficult when he brings guys home and I’m in my room with the lights off and nothing but his dirty talk and my insomnia keeping me company. The walls are too thin in our apartment.
It’s a good thing that Vicky warned me before I met him to watch out for my heart. I would have fallen for him for sure. As it is, I’ve fallen for my boss round the pub, which isn’t a much better choice since he’s married and twenty years older than me. But he’s a flirt, and he’s told me more than once, when he’s had one too many with the lads – “It’s good for business, drinkin’ with the customers, but don’t you ever dare do it,” he always tells me – he’s told me that he’d fancy me in a second if he wasn’t wrapped around his wife’s little finger.
Just look at me. I sound like one of those sad cases on the telly, those girls who are all moaning about the men who don’t fancy them anymore. That’s not what I’m about. My life isn’t about the lads I fancy, nor about the ones I bring round from the pub when I’m feeling lonely and need someone to distract me from Thomas’s voice.
What’s my life about, then? I take pictures. That’s what I do when I’m not working or out having fun with Thomas and the rest of the gang. I photograph people around the city. Just people. Anyone, really. My mum thinks I’m crazy, and dad thinks that I’m wasting everything I learned in art school.
I used to paint, see. I still can do, I suppose, but it doesn’t give me that feeling, you know the one, that oomph down in the pit of your stomach where everything goes when you’re terrified or extra happy. Remember when you first went really high on the swings as a little kid? Your mum or dad or big brother were pushing you and you wanted them to stop, and maybe you even told them so, but they ignored you and kept pushing you higher and higher and your little hands were holding on so tight that later they stank of metal for hours. And then, when you were so high that you were getting dizzy just thinking about it, you came back down and your belly came right up into your heart. Even though you didn’t know anything about biology, you knew that shouldn’t be happening, your stomach shouldn’t be moving up to where it did, and it felt like it was being tugged with a bit of string, yanked really, and it was so weird but also felt good. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what taking pictures feels like.
Not always, obviously. But when I get one right, it feels just like that.
This morning I got one right, for instance. It was the best thing I photographed all month. It’s a woman feeding a bunch of squirrels in the park. She’s sitting there, not on a bench or anything, just on some of the grass that isn’t wet anymore now that the sun is finally making an appearance, and she’s got this vat of popcorn in her lap. There are squirrels all around her. It’s strange. I still don’t know if she was bonkers or homeless or both or neither because I stayed far away so that I wouldn’t scare the squirrels. They were around her in a circle and they kept running forward, right onto her lap sometimes, to take some popcorn. Then they’d run away and eat it with their back to her.
In the picture I took, though, she’s eating some of it herself. All these squirrels, some stealing the stuff right from that cardboard bucket she was holding, and she takes this fistful of white popcorn and stuffs it into her own mouth. Like she was starving or something. It made my stomach go oomph, all right.

Vonna

It was opening night, and Vonna sat in the back room with the gallery owner and breathed into a paper bag.

“It’s going to be alright, honey, just breathe for me,” the kindly old man tried to soothe her.

“But-what-if-they-hate-everything-?” Vonna gasped through breaths. Her voice came out slightly muffled by the bag, but the panic in it was still clear.

“Darling, they’ll love you,” William, the gallery owner, said. His gray hair was still thick and shiny, despite his advancing age. He was past eighty, but Vonna would never have guessed it. He had the dulcet tones of a gentleman, having shed his New York accent over the years since he’d left the Big Apple.

Vonna finally put the paper bag down and looked into his eyes. He looked right back, faith shining there. “What was it you said to me the day I brought you my paintings?” she asked.

“I told you the truth. I would never let any artist show and sell their art in this gallery if I didn’t think I’d make a profit out of it. I know art and I know people. They will love you, my dear, and they’ll buy up every piece you’ve got. Maybe not tonight, maybe not tomorrow, but within a month, your pieces will be hanging on strangers’ walls. Do you remember what you said to me then?” he chuckled.

Vonna offered an embarrassed smile. “I said that I wasn’t sure if I wanted my pieces hanging on strangers’ walls. And then you said that if I didn’t, well, I’d be just like all those singers who get their mom and friends to buy up all their CDs, and that I’d be pathetic. I didn’t like you much that day.”

William began to laugh. “Dear, dear, I can’t imagine that you would have! But you know better now. You know that I simply want the best for you, and that I believe in your work, otherwise I wouldn’t let you sell it.”

“True. You’re a greedy old goat, just like Sanjay told me you’d be.”

“You’d better tell the same thing to anyone you refer me to – I have a reputation to hold up, darling. Now let me go check that everything is ready. You sit here – sit!” he pushed Vonna back into the chair she was about to rise up from. “I’ll call you a few minutes after we open the doors and then you’ll circulate like the social-butterfly that you can be.” He left the room, winking before he shut the door.

Vonna got up the moment he was gone. She began pacing up and down the little office, three steps in each direction before turning and going the other way. Within moments she was dizzy and sat down again. She had forty-two paintings hanging on the walls out in the beautiful space of Marigold Gallery, one of the better known small galleries that seemed to be the life and soul of the art scene in the city. Gallery openings, she knew, were social events for anyone who wanted to scope out competition, invest wisely, or else mingle with the artisy and the rich. She’d been to enough openings as a guest to know the drill. The doors would open, the crowd would come in looking disdainful, excited or haughtily curious. Half would rush to the table where the champagne glasses were set, and the other half would begin to walk around lazily.

She pictured herself at the last gallery opening she’d been to. It had been at Wings of Freedom Gallery, a bigger place that had openings for multiple artists at a time. She’d walked in at the tail end of the crowd and had begun to walk around, feeling that curious leap in her stomach when she saw something she loved, and that strange plummet that made her look away from something that bothered her, revolted her or bored her.

But tonight it was her turn and – heaven forbid! – people would be looking at her own pieces like that! Forty-two paintings she’d done in four years. Soon, all would be gone. Except for those three that weren’t for sale (“It makes people more interested to see that the artist is keeping his or her own personal masterpieces for themselves,” William had patiently explained.)

Vonna felt like hyperventilating again. Maybe if she fainted, she needn’t go out there at all. But no, there was William, coming back in.

“They’re all in there, dear. Are you ready to mingle? A couple people have already asked where you are. They already have things to say to you, you see? Nothing to worry about. Come,” he held out his hand, wrinkled and soft. Vonna took a deep breath, took his hand, tossed her own graying red hair back, put on her social-smile, and stepped into the gallery.

The Bringer of Dreams

The Bringer of Dreams is an artist. She’s old, as old as humanity itself, but she doesn’t look it. Not always, at least. She changes bodies as the whim takes her. Sometimes she’s a little girl with red curls and freckles. Sometimes she’s a teenager dressed all in black, hair a mass of spikes and metal rings through every bit of skin that can hold them. Sometimes she’s a soft-faced woman, dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans, hands rough but kind. Sometimes she’s an old, old woman, wrapped in shawls, knobbly cane at her side and eyes tired with the hurt she’s seen and the wisdom she’s acquired.

The Bringer of Dreams lives outside of time. Her home varies as her bodies do, changing from mansion to cottage to trendy apartment to wooden cabin to an abandoned squat full of dust. She feels comfortable whatever her home looks like – comfortable in her skin, in her surroundings, in her art.

Her media vary just as much, because all humans dream a little differently. There are times when she’ll paint pictures in oil, making the details perfect and the shades magical. At others, she’ll work in crayon, roughly sketching in shapes and rubbing the colors to look blurry and unclear. Sometimes she’ll snap photos, or film something, making the most life-like dreams imaginable and sending them off.

She does this over and over again. For each human, a few dreams a night. Every night. For all eternity. But she lives outside time, and her impetuous, playful nature means she never gets bored – or if she does, she’ll just change everything around her, and start anew with something else.

The Bringer of Dreams is an artist, and she’ll always be there, sending us dreams, night after night, year after year, age upon age.

Plinth People

Trafalgar Square is probably one of the most famous places in London. Every movie or TV show that shows a montage of London scenery includes it. The square is bordered by four plinths, three of which are regularly occupied by the same statues. This summer, however, the fourth plinth is being used differently. The full info can be found here: http://www.london.gov.uk/fourthplinth/

Basically, every hour of every day for the duration of the summer, a different person will occupy the empty plinth. The people are allowed to do whatever they wish, except, I assume, for blatant sexual performances or violence. Mr. B. F. and I made Trafalgar Square a hub during our visit to London. We kept going back, sometimes up to four times a day, so we could see what the current Plinth Person was doing.

Our first wasn’t very exciting. She was sitting up on the plinth in a folding chair, and sketching. She didn’t interact with the crowd, not even for a moment. I’m sure that she enjoyed the experience of sketching from such a spot, a place that there would be no reason for her to access at any other time, but the crowd around her wasn’t a part of her experience. There were quite a few Plinth People who were there in this way – writing in notebooks or on computers – but I shan’t elaborate about them, because I cannot speak of what sort of experiences they had.

The first Plinth Person we enjoyed seeing we referred to as The Lady in Pink. She was, indeed, dressed all in pink, holding a glass of pink champagne and standing on a pink rug she’d spread across the plinth. She was throwing pink paper airplanes into the crowd, and occasionally she’d toast the crowd and take a sip of her champagne. Then she started throwing candy, and the children went wild for it. We managed to find a couple of the empty candy wrappers – that’s how we figured out that this lady’s message was optimism. She’d written heartwarming compliments and phrases on her paper airplanes and tied encouraging little notes to the candies. My favorite was this: Someone is proud of you right now. Lovely!

The next interesting Plinth Person we got to see was a young man, early twenties probably, who was holding a megaphone and giving a history lesson. He’d brought notes with him, and was reading to the crowd, explaining some battle or another. He soon finished, and asked if the crowd wanted more. Some people, including us, cheered and whooped. He began then to tell us about Trafalgar Square itself; he told us about how it was a gathering place used for everything from protesting wars to mourning Micheal Jackson. He also explained that it was built to restrain such gatherings – the fountain in the middle, for instance, was a good way to break a crowd up and leave some movable space, also thus restricting just how many people could occupy the square.

Another of the fun Plinth People we saw was part of a whole group. She was young as well, presumable a student, and she was holding a sign which we could see from far off: FREE HUGS. We wandered closer, wondering how on earth she’d be able to give free hugs when she was on the plinth, secluded, with no way for anyone to reach her. As we drew near, we figured it out – she was simply the advertisement. A small platoon of her cronies stood underneath the plinth holding identical signs, and these were the ones who were giving the hugs away. I claimed one.

Our shared favorite, however, was a man we saw in the evening, around ten PM. He seemed to be in his thirties, but his hair was already all white. He was singing nursery rhymes – both aloud, and in sign language. He was teaching the crowd sign language in the simplest way possible – through Five Little Ducks and Old McDonald Had A Farm. It was wondrous. There were some women who stood there and sang along with him constantly, never missing a line, figuring out, as we did, what each gesture the man made was and understanding the words that went with the gestures.

If anyone is going to be in London by the end of the summer, I recommend frequent stops at Trafalgar Square. You’ll see some incredible things.

A Painting of Marie

The painting was by an artist whose name I don’t remember. I never looked at the name of the painting. I don’t remember what gallery it was in, nor what country the gallery was in. I don’t even remember how old I was when I saw it, only that it had to have been in the last few years. Still, despite all this, the painting is clear in my mind’s eye as if it were hanging in my room.

In the painting sits a girl. She looks like she’s in her early teens, just blossoming into womanhood. She is sitting on a nondescript and unimpressive wooden chair, and the backdrop behind her is just a gloomy sort of brown. It’s unclear where she is, nor why she is sitting down. I named her Marie.

Marie has skin the color of milk chocolate- dark, but not very. Her hair, black as coal but looking a little matted, is tumbling around her shoulders, though I get the impression that it’s normally pinned in a quick bun and has only just tumbled down. Her lips are red and full, and she’s not really smiling, nor is she frowning. She’s simply gazing into space, not focused on the viewer of the painting but rather seems to be looking right over your shoulder, at someone behind you. Her eyes are a wonderful dark brown and seem intelligent but tired.

She’s wearing a blue dress with a white apron over it. She looks like she could be a maid, or perhaps a shop-girl sometime in the 1700s in the United States. For some reason, I feel like she’s a dweller of New Orleans, and I can picture her running barefoot through the dusty streets, maneuvering herself between pirates, privateers, salesmen and prostitutes.

Her hands are folded on her lap, and it looks like they’re not used to being idle in this manner. They look rough and work-weary, just like her.

When I saw Marie, I sat before her for maybe an hour, maybe more, just looking at her. I wanted to speak to her, hear her thoughts and dreams, laugh with her, walk down the streets of her life with her. But she stayed in her painting, caught forever by an artist in this one moment of repose.