as his fingers splayed wide press into his chest. Now he throws his head back and when again he meets the earnest gaze pinned beneath him, he laughs. The same way that he laughs after he accidentally bashes his head on the bedframe and suddenly he’s all worried like this will change something between them and he’ll get up, discreetly pull on his pale blue briefs and cut-off jeans and leave, slipping down the stairs and out the door. But he just laughs, scoots about a bit, and pulls him closer. In this moment, he remembers that he asked him to turn away while he undressed and he unbuttoned his trousers back-to-back. Chaste, cold, timeless in a way. And when he does depart (not now but later, in the morning, after sipping tea and talking with inexhaustible enthusiasm in words he can’t understand), he will again quickly, modestly, pull back on his underwear – the pale blue briefs he’ll wish he’d left behind – bouncing with excitement and exuberance, shaming him in his stupor.
Update on some of my recent and upcoming pieces in print and online
“Not Forgotten” – on Dennis Cooper’s Gone: Scrapbooks (1980-1982) at 3:AM Magazine
“As if Rimbaud were on Whatsapp” – on Thomas Moore’s Skeleton Costumes at Full Stop Magazine
“Handbook of Transgression” – on Laura Ellen Joyce’s The Luminol Reels at 3:AM Magazine
“Zen and the Art of Doctoral Research” – on meditation at University of Sussex Research Hive blog
Conversation with Mark Gluth on the publication of his third book, The Goners at Dennis Cooper’s blog (Feb 2015)
Review of Caren Beilin’s The University of Pennsylvania at Full Stop Magazine (March 2015)
“Revisiting Pierre Guyotat’s Eden, Eden, Eden: Splanchnology, Writing, Matter, and the Devastation of Ethics” – French Forum (Spring 2015)
Vincent Como: Paradise Lost
May 10 – June 15, 2013
Minus Space, 111 Front St, Suite 226, Brooklyn, NY.
Down under the Brooklyn overpass, it’s hot, it’s sunny and I don’t know where I am. Drawing out a phone, I peer into the screen. The tip of the right index finger depresses the phone’s ON button as the right thumb types into the map application “M-I-N-U-S – S-P-I-C-E [sic] F-R-O-N-T-S-T”. I appreciate the phone’s reassuring weight centred in the palm of the right hand; the bevelled edge around which little, ring and middle fingers curl. It’s too bright to see the results, however: rounding a street corner, reveals a wall of midday sun and suddenly the obsidian surface reflects only a dim face in the glare; my features sheened with sweat, my brows drawn together, my lips pursed in irritation.
At Minus Space I read that monochromatic artist Vincent Como’s show, “Paradise Lost,” takes its title from John Milton’s seventeenth century account of Satan’s fall and biblical man’s banishment from Eden. Como’s paradise appears to be a world in which idealism or univocal signification held sway: thus, the artist contends that his works are vectors of a post-Edenic era, “manifest ideas with multiple meanings.” Yet it seems to me that the blackness perceived by Milton’s blind eyes while envisioning paradise in his epic poem, also intrudes upon the fringes of Como’s pieces.
Eight rectangular black canvases are evenly distributed along three walls of Minus Space’s rectangular gallery. A black shelf two inches beneath each varnished canvas holds between three and nine black candles, protruding at irregular intervals from dark stalagmites of mounting waste wax. Excrescences of hardening wax cascade over the shelves, casting dark, reaching shadows on the wall below. Here and there a dark pearlescent glob haltingly descends from the lighted tip of a candle; some of these have dropped splattering onto the floor. It’s an imposing, somewhat sepulchral scene, made more oppressive by the intense heat generated by so many lighted candles in this small space.
I snap a photo with my phone that I’ll post on Facebook later. As the candles’ flames bounce and flicker, reflected in their shiny black backing, I’m five years old again, golden-curled and uncomprehending, as my mother places a Christmas candle in the window of our home in rural Ireland. “To guide the baby Jesus on his way,” I’m told, so: a messianic ritual. Wind moans through our house on a hill in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing: outside it’s pitch black and I imagine a figure stalking towards the winking flame. I remember that I haven’t been home in a while.
The phone’s camera doesn’t pick up tones well, however: the candle flames are fuzzy orange smudges, black is washed out to the miserable charcoal of an old band t-shirt and, in the canvas, a spooky human shape in darker grey. After “Paradise Lost 006,” whose nine candles have together excreted a monstrous but seemingly immobile accumulation of waxy detritus, comes “Paradise Lost 015.” Another trinity of candles erected before another jet black window, it initially seems indistinguishable from works like “Paradise Lost 007,” which has attracted three other visitors – all now gazing into its glassy depths.
It is different, however; or rather it shows its difference more plainly: here the surface is slightly scorched in two places, dull teardrops tarnishing the burnished coating of the canvas. My reflections are quickly interrupted: the flames are slowly burning these artworks, imperceptibly cooking varnish, oil and, eventually, linen. Incremental and almost imperceptible, too, is the coagulated accretion of wax created by them. Their evolution or devolution as artworks proceeds regardless of a viewer; changes in size, shape and shadow occur behind one’s back. The epiphanic effect is more than disconcerting: looking around the room, all appears as it was, but a vague unease has imposed itself upon the scene. My engaged appreciation is quickly supplanted by an indeterminate, but palpable sense that, all around, these artworks may be alive, partaking of an organic but inhuman vitality… The sudden bleep and throb of an incoming text message is a welcome distraction, and I depart, eyes locked upon the screen.
My introduction to the eleventh issue of One+One Filmmakers Journal, available to download for free here.
Introduction to the Issue: 11
11 – its form familiar and predictable, but alien to the work of this magazine’s writers: one, one. Its repetition, that of the same without alteration, a recurrence without modulation. Without affirmation: not a Derridean yes, yes but a “yeah, yeah” (whatevs). So predictable – is this a re-run? No invocation of the monstrous outside, no addition of something new through the middle: no conjunction here. Just two parallel lines (of thought, behaviour, creativity) that never intersect, carrying us, swaying, toward some known destination, determined in advance.
Put the eyeball on a dolly though; come around and a little below, and the two bars of 11 look like they intersect (the left one is in fact tilted back at an angle of about 30 degrees and is much longer than it appeared from the front). Better: just shove them together, spin them round so they’re perpendicular. The articles assembled in One+One Filmmakers Journal do just this: approaching their subjects askew, turning old ideas around, combining them with new ones.
Given recent interest in the work of French writer, photographer and artist Édouard Levé and the acclaim which followed the publication of his Suicide (Dalkey 2011) last year, I thought I’d share this. It’s my translation of short piece by Levé called “Un Soir au Strip-Tease,” which was originally published in Mouvement: l’indisciplinaire des arts vivants from early 2007.
A Night at the Strip Club
Y., a dancer who acted in my piece Pornographie suggested that I come to see her some evening at her day-job, the S. She worked as a stripper there. Being interested in the swinging scene a few years ago and having visited Les Chandelles, l’Overside and the Pluriel Club for research, I decided to accept her invitation, hoping that this spectacle would turn up a readymade I could one day recycle in my art.
The S. can be found in the 17ème arrondissement, not far from Porte Maillot. The entrance looks like that of a New York nightclub from the 50s, but erected upon the dull [terne] Avenue des Ternes. Two colossal guardians are planted outside the door like the obligatory accoutrements of somewhere that wants to appear exclusive: considering the ease with which the gentlemen in front of me enter, I gather that their purpose is purely decorative, like the red cord which hangs between two gilded metal posts. We leave our clothing in the great foyer, presided over by men the size of wrestlers. Taking the stairs down, we spill out onto a bar. This is what the S’s website says: “Upon purple walls and absinthe-coloured stairs which lead down to the main room, a patchwork of fans offer a foretaste of the venue’s subtle tones. A few steps beyond, the cabaret exhales the aroma of the boudoir, reminiscent of Shanghai in the 20s. Bathed in distressed reds and gold, the sofas all bear different motifs and details, harmonizing perfectly with the fabrics, curtains, and the orgue à parfums, an illuminated array of bottles containing every sort of feminine accessory.” It takes some imagining. 260 seats are available for patrons. There are no female patrons here. The only women are waitresses and dancers. The latter are distributed between two or three podiums spread out across a huge room, where low ceilings try in vain to create some intimacy. The dancers follow, one after another, onto the podiums, from the center of which protrudes a metal pole which they hold, around which they wind and from which they dangle themselves. This accessory is necessary for the choreography but above all serves to flatter the ego of the spectators who take it for their penis: the size, hardness, and brilliance calls to mind their wildest dreams.
I write “dancers” rather than “strippers,” because it seems to me that a stripper disrobes slowly, and the act’s appeal lies in the suspense of a gradual unveiling. Here, however, the dancers appear in g-string and bra, and it takes at most a few seconds until they remove the top part. For the bottom, one must go into a room at the back, where one gets full nudity either in public or in a private lounge. In the largest room, a “modesty” seems to persist.
I seat myself in front of a podium, and behold an enormous woman. It’s perhaps an effect of the low angle: the podium rises far above seated spectators. She gives herself over to a fixed routine. She turns around the bar, hangs there by her arms or her legs, rubs herself against the immense cock, sways obscenely, dances a little looking a spectator in the eye and leaves. The operation lasts five minutes. A moment’s beat and another one takes up the baton, offering pretty much the same choreography. The aim of this show is to whet the appetites of spectators and entice them to get themselves a personal “striptease.” For a few ten euro notes, the client can ask the stripper to give him a dance up close. She then contorts herself a few centimetres away from him, caresses his face with long hair that she flicks at him while she bends in his direction, before straightening up all of a sudden. The tresses follow. Her breasts bounce and shake at eye level. Some dancers have the chests of professional wet nurses. Their breasts enclose the client’s face. I admire the precision of the ordeal, as never does a nipple make contact with the face. Yet it is a few millimetres away. The dancer doesn’t touch the client, who is not allowed to touch her. Everything happens in this suspense and this distance, especially as the scene is played out in public in front of friends or colleagues from the office. One doesn’t come here alone. This is the paradox of the S.: we have come here together to enjoy a show we would rather be conducted in private.
For a heftier sum, one may also ask a dancer for a performance in a private room. Private? I suppose. The room is illuminated by weak light. Some one-person tables have been set up; a half-dozen dancer/client couples are busying themselves at the same time. The dancer does pretty much the same work as in the main room, but out of the salacious eye of the public. Main purpose of the procedure: the client can triumphantly return to the table as if he had conquered the dancer and, for his colleagues’ benefit , make up what could have happened in the mysterious room.
Like VIP rooms that have now become widespread at professional events and selected attractions, the interest lies not in that to which we have access, but on the contrary, that which we are denied. It’s better to fantasise about these rooms than get into them: they are “de-phantasmagoric” sites.
As for dance: would the S benefit from the guidance of some choreographers? You can believe it, judging by the mediocrity on offer. But is inventiveness compatible with arousal? I asked myself this question during my research into pornography. I had the greatest difficulty finding inventive examples. Pornography is pavlovian: desire is roused by a coarse rod. We need to see sex, not art. Ideas and their expression are dislodged; our attention is turned away, toward the physical shape. Yet what is interesting about pornography is its substance – depth, even. Striptease adheres to the same specific codes as pornography.
But it’s more puritan. It is only the first step towards mental adultery. Does one cheat on one’s wife while masturbating in front of an image? You would have to ask a priest. Anyway, at the S. you’re definitely not cheating on anyone. Nothing is consummated, no substance discharged. There are witnesses, colleagues or friends. We touch only with our eyes. Honour is intact. One may return home and relay an account of the evening to one’s wife. Though the S. advertises a Stag Party special on its website, looking around at the assembled clientele, I see the harts of no future husbands. Instead, the crowd comprises forty year old men, in well-made suits, buying themselves a break having signed some contract or other.
Has dance something to learn from striptease? Parody, perhaps. As for what it might appropriate [détournement], however, there isn’t any more to be learned here than in the observation of contemporary gestures: assembly line, telecommuting, or fast food jobs… Striptease is a contemporary phenomenon among others.
I stayed an hour at the S. Y. is the only dancer that bothered me: flat chested, slim, economical not lavish gestures, she hadn’t the same body as her sisters. As she danced above one of the dozen Japanese men seated around an oval table, her distant, almost cold, demeanour frightened me. I forgot to ask what her stage name was. I looked on the website. Amidst the Venuses, Wildwests, Scorpios, Chanels and Bambis, I couldn’t find her.
Schoolboy Errors is on vacation but I’m still blogging over at the new One+One: Filmmakers Journal site. Recent popular posts over there have included One+One editors’ response to Sight and Sound’s top 50 films, an ode to Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, and my piece on Ai Weiwei and political dissent. It also features a new column called Eyeblaze. You can also download previous issues of the journal from the last few years for free! Check it out and I’ll see you back here soon.