There is a place I walk by every day: the common reasons one walks by a place every day. In this repetition, like so many forms of repetition, I found my attention growing and I marvelled – then this level of attention faltered. After which it might have stopped, who knows? I was looking elsewhere.
Every day I passed this place, it was a hole in the pavement covered with a sheet of plywood, the plywood weighted down by two sandbags. The whole structure of sandbags, wood, and hole had been thoroughly soaked by heavy rain. An ever vigilant pedestrian, I avoided it as a hole. The void noted, the walking re-routed. However, two hours ago I passed this construct and all my wonder re-awoke. One of the sandbags is missing.
“The enemy’s hiding places are set in the wall of the lobby like serviette holders. They are numbered. When I take a stroll in the lobby I am sometimes prompted by a little imp to open one of these pigeonholes. [….] From number 99 […] I heard nothing but the sound of limitless expectation; an indescribable sound, which, if one had to try comparing with something one knew, has a slight similarity perhaps with the sound of the blood coursing round the veins as heard by a solitary person when alone in the silence….” [Unica Zurn. The House of Illnesses.]
9KHz. Thunderstorm detection. [Tim Baker, Noisegate #2.]
There was a hired function room in a hotel that I walked into only to leave, at day end. There are reasons for hired rooms and reasons for hired function rooms. There are reasons for leaving. In this particular scenario I found myself to be one of the few people not carrying or using a mobile telephone. I became abject. The grip telecommunications have on a user’s life. To be gripped by, to be carrying, users… But I was unconnected and therefore obviously an amateur, and microwaved conversations lacerated my body. My body without secret, nothing but.
A product was evangelized, I was commissioned in its promotion. The reason for staying, the reason for leaving. Teams would ride into town buoyed up on messages beamed around the nation from the radio: Have you ever tried the taste...
890 MHz – 905 MHz & 935 MHz – 960 MHz. Cell phones.
Once there were two lovers, exiles. He had been imprisoned as an undesirable alien, she would spend time in mental institutions. Once there was a couple and he tied her up. Both endured poverty. And there was solitude. Hans made an elaborate female companion, this we know. (Oskar Kokoschka once needed one too.)
Hans owned a camera. There is a family portrait; Unica, the doll, and he. He scowls at us, the viewer, smokes a cigarette. She imagines he her double, her other sexed self. Perhaps there is some semblance; do lovers’ faces over time not only reflect each other but come to resemble one another?
Unica’s image has none of Hans’s self possession. Her stare skims the doll’s convulsed anatomy and, with pursed lips, she intently studies something we cannot see.
They were perhaps too much alone, together, for much of the time. Surrealists of greater fame, whose product shifted more easily, are seen on the beach. Heterosexual couples coupling up with heterosexual couples, sun, wine, good company: why not? Easy to take a photograph in a situation like this; one of the party can slip out of frame without any anxiety that they might vanish forever. They will reappear later that day as one or other of their companions takes their turn behind the lens.
No ease, no grace, no bonhomie for the documentation of this coupling, which is anyway a ménage a trois. If this is play it is a game not to be played in public although that is different from having the game made public: Hans and Unica and doll. Space, body, voyeur. If the elements are basic, what follows is maddeningly fluid, not quite graspable. Secrets become hidden in the obvious. Unica obsessively turns sentences inside out. (“The old, dangerous fever of the anagrams has her in its grip.[…] once again she shuts herself off completely from her surroundings.” [The Man of Jasmine])
The obvious is hidden in secrets. He creates new orifices, new breasts, turns flesh into ambiguity, landscape, and food. Her double becomes object, his toy. (“The body resembles a sentence which seems to invite us to dismember it into component letters, so that it will reveal in an endless row of anagrams the reality it contains.” [Hans Bellmer. The Anatomy of the Image.])
There is a portrait of Unica, a drawing by Hans. Her face is imposed on/flows from her arse and legs, and in this doubling one eye is taken over by her furled, moist vagina. A vaguely phallic column of ectoplasm rises behind the legs and in this there is Hans’s eye. It is the exact same eye that we see in the above mentioned photograph.
Unica and Hans feel the body to be constantly shifting into something else. She creates anagrams. He creates the doll, a poly-perverse toy that begs one to imagine infinite permutation. Unica ended her life by leaping through an open window.
There is a thing missing – that missing thing is permanent – there is a thing not said – gap – absence – there is no thing – it’s always. Imagine such things that I cannot see, touch, hear or smell.
If you would, put your hands on the radio now…
49.82 MHz – 49.9 MHz. Children’s walkie talkies – Baby Alarms – Toys.
Woke up on the bus. I had fallen asleep on the bus. I did not know where I was.
470 MHz – 854 MHz. Television and studio talkback.
Sarah and Angus are on television. This couple are both young artists but the programme is about Sarah. They sit before each other on a low window sill. Brilliant light spills across them – but no defenestration here – the window is shut. He says little, they drink wine. She is in shorts and tee shirt and she slaps her legs. “This,” she says, “this is what I believe in.” Later, he dances around in an ape outfit, fake fur and the mask of a gorilla. Gradually the sleeves slide off, then the pants slip down to reveal his naked human butt.
I got drunk and later awoke on a bus, I know not where. By dawn I was curled up on a park bench, shivering, alternating between gawping at the sky and then watching fox life amongst the shrubbery. An hour or so passed. I walked and acquired blisters on both feet, after which I got on the first tube train at the first station I found (to this day I cannot work out where). A sweaty, ecstatic mess; I clung to my seat, teeth chattering, eyeballs rolling back in my skull. The people travelling beside me were on their way to work.
This is nothing new.
A dumbness, a plain dogged stupidity is sometimes needed if one is to move through a city. There is no ease otherwise. You are in a pit, at the bottom of a chasm. We submit to a protocol of confusion and disorientation quite as if we really were entering a labyrinth. This submission to a ritual terror is undertaken only in the expectation of being turned around, around and around, to step out into sunlight a creature reborn, death conquered, new life before us.
Such is the unspoken presumption. Naturally enough one discovers this presuming is often wrong. We allow ourselves the folly and scoff that there is no Minotaur in this labyrinth, only plenty of cattle.
“Space is basically incomprehensible, an absence of things, a nothingness that obliterates order.” [Robert Morris. Collected writings.]
1450 MHz – 2000 MHz. Space and Microwave, Global Positioning System.
There is a radio station. It portions a daily broadcast into slots. Each slot is marketed differently. This radio station gives its early evening slot to a disc jockey. In his allotted space he is able to air his views, some records, and to select for broadcast individuals who phone in to the station. Those chosen are often people just home from school or work, people on their way home, people cooking tea or waiting for tea – getting ready for the night ahead. Those who do call the station will be submitted to various tests.
Name five … beginning with the letter … in … seconds.
Guess the number of CDs piled up inside the car. (You win the car if you are correct. You have opportunity to see the car, and the CDs, at the following events…)
Tee shirts, mugs, and tickets fly out to pacify have-a-go-heroes. Losers are allowed to shout eager hellos over the airwaves.
How many people ever hear their dedications? Of those that do, imagine how many are actually in the room with the caller or in the room next door, egging on their friend, work mate or relative in this their brush with shame.
There is one caller who is beyond the normal taunts and teases of the dj’s wit. No embarrassment for this man. He is systematically destroying his house, one item per night, live on radio. This is not the usual barter wherein a member of the audience, exposing themselves to the barbs of the dj, receives in return mnemonic tokens of a moment spent outside normal space. Instead we witness a transaction in which destruction has found an uncertain equilibrium. The individual is destroying his own property in a dare to outstrip everyday existence – whatever that may be. The dj can be heard,as if stepping back from the microphone, an astonishing ceding of power, so as to allow this piece of exploitation theatre to crash, thud and clunk across the night. The full act goes something like this:
1. Mutual bawling of greetings.
2. Statements concerning mental status. “You’re mad you are!” “You’re a nutter!” Madness twisted around and around. Is this a compliment or insult? And is feigned lunacy contemptible and the genuine article to be admired or vice versa? Or is it both ways but different in the mouths of different speakers?
3. The dj will wrest back some control of the situation by recapping on what has been destroyed so far.
A chair. A cabinet. A window. An electronic keyboard. Crockery. The television. A microwave oven. A radio…
Nobody even flinches. Neither participant are willing or able to admit to irony, doubt, symbolism.
Escalation and the mute comedy of disbelief are the sole effect welcomed here.
4. The object is destroyed. This usually consists of miscellaneous thumping, a few random bursts of electric drill, sawing sounds, thump, crash. The rattling of the telephone handset on whatever surface it is lain makes the most noise. Sound effects so appalling they could never have come out of a studio. Over a period of time the caller has begun to try and improvise a commentary. He fails by all common standards at conveying excitement, clarity, or simple description and this of course makes the spectacle more terrible, which is why the dj or the dj’s producer is counting on the listener being drawn, as we are drawn to car crashes.
3 MHz & 173 MHz. Hearing aids.
To be beyond ape. To cure, to scale, to breach. The whole point of intelligence is to be something that is not. The octopuses will communicate in patterned skins, the wings of insects will sing, and starlings will imitate car alarms while at the bottom of the oceans whole colonies of shrimp will live, thrive and die without ever having known oxygen.
The water logged sandbag was found after walking for a further fifteen minutes along the street. It had been hurled at the paving slab as if someone intended to smash through to the earth below. Only this sack, this torso, this dead weight had not cracked the floor on which we walk. It had split; its grimy plastic weave torn apart by the force of hitting ground. Pedestrians and cyclists trailed through the red sand making a florid paste of these terracotta coloured guts, a damp carnage smeared along the pavement and scrawled onto a black tarmac road.
Original first published in Inventory: losing, finding, collecting. Vol.3 No.1 1998