No 65 - 1976
The Girl Who Was Art
Who else can recreate with her body the immortal works of Tadanori Yokoo, morning star of Japan’s economic sunrise in the mid-Twentieth century, quite as myself? Gazing at his superbly ironic body on pages 18 and 19 of the priceless first edition of Posthumous Works (presented to me by my Master as a necessary part of my equipment) I can sense his petulant eyes and surly lips meeting mine across the years. T lies alone on a maroon paisley bed, posters pasted on the walls, body propped on a slim elbow... and if I were able to travel back in time and knock on his door I’d open my mouth wide as a lockjaw moon and hold that pose till he was amazed, compelled to pout in his bored way, ‘Well I guess I can use your face’- he’d never guess that neither lockjaw nor lockanything can cramp my style after the hours of muscle-training I’ve undergone.
Admittedly false pride can ruin a good performer who has to be quite selfless when she comes to submerge herself in her role. Yet how can I help feeling just a little proud of being the best interpreter of T in all Japan? For I know I am. No one has devoted more to her art. Is this pride? I don’t think so. My only joy is to feel what flowers must have felt in the gone days of Ikebana, had they been gifted with consciousness: the fulfillment of being part of a design. For I am an intelligent flower that has the privilege of arranging itself - according to T’s immortal graphic designs, prescient patterns of our new Japan to which the whole world turns.
My Master is a man of taste - one of the first businessmen to turn away from the old artists of a dead world, those Manets and Rubenses and Utamaros, leaving the girls who specialised in recreating them to drag their wasted talents round country fairs and department store roofs. But the etiquette of praise is very strict. We feel that open praise is a little vulgar. That is for foreigners to lavish. My Master cannot exactly praise my nightly performances - in fact he must sit with his back to them, in the place of honour. Only when he has a guest to dinner can he sit facing me across the table and take notice of me. I may also hear a word of praise from the guest. Yet it isn’t praise or fame that I think about as I hold my pose there perfectly still. Am I worthy of T and his design? That’s all I wonder.
My Master usually phones immediately after lunch so that I can be in place when he gets home in the evening. Apart from the Posthumous Works open in front of me as I wait for his call, my room is perfectly bare. The costume cupboards closed, everything neat. My whole life being in here, I want nothing to distract me from T’s ideas. Here I eat and here I sleep and on my holiday here I often remain, meditating. Rarely do I open the paper screen windows. What need is there to? It’s all in T’s own work, foreseen so many years ago - the blazing highrise buildings, the trains with giant plastic flowers sprouting from them, the crashing helicopters, naked girls globed in fishbowl helmets, lunar city under the smoking volcano, rays of the sun diffracted into broad red beams by the smog and skyscrapers, our flag spread open in the sky at last for visitors from abroad to wonder at…
Last night I posed in the cool crazy White Smile from that vintage year 1966: stooping in front of the white china toilet with the split seat, bowing with a big toothy grin, my slip hanging off one shoulder showing both breasts, bending over to pull my red knickers down below my knees…
The night before I was a New York Girl in a brown wig with curls, my left arm sticking straight up in the air waving above a smudge of brown armpit, right hand grasping a telephone speaker to a mouth red with lipstick, bright vermilion tongue sticking out cheekily over my lower lip - and my huge eyes blank white contact-lens cut-outs in my face. The telephone dial-box hanging down by my waist, ballooning red skirt pinned neatly to it, showing off my sky-blue knickers, black suspenders, a blue stocking and a red stocking, against a backdrop of midair Manhattan with a blond beachguard cutout appraising me…
Earlier in the week, I was the girl jockey bent double over my black plastic steed with my hair streaming in the wind and a fresh mackerel clasped between my teeth.
I’ve stood nude before Mt. Fuji with my hair done up in a towel, teeth in a foam of tingling toothpaste.
I’ve been the bare-breasted vampire at the seaside. I’ve been the Japanese Mona Lisa squeezing a jet of milk - thin white plastic strand - from one nipple while my other hand toys with my clitoris inside my white panties, mouth wide open, eyes rolled upwards, flowing golden mane, masturbating maniac of the rocks…
The telephone buzzes.
My Master appears on the screen, I bow to him, he nods a quick acknowledgement.
‘I have a guest tonight…Kindly do The Gratitude of Aeschylus.’ And breaks the connexion, vanishing in the whirlpool of his own light, busy man.
My heart leaps with joy, for The Gratitude of Aeschylus is one of the most complex, most demanding, most aesthetically satisfying of all T’s works. I shall need all the time there is.
Adding cream dye to the already hot water in my bath behind the sliding door, I submerge myself totally, closing my eyes and breathing through a straw while I run down all the details of this demanding role
Like a ballerina on tiptoes with legs wide apart I shall have to stand, pointed toes concealed in blue rubber mermaid fins that cling to my legs as far as the knees. Apart from a red Noh mask taped to my crotch, my only other article of dress a diving helmet with an abnormally broad glass window. The air-hose from this coils round my body under my left breast, down behind my thigh, back between my legs, before doubling into the mouth of the Noh mask…the spectator sees the pipe as entering my vagina, is supposed to believe I’m breathing out of my own womb - the ultimate self-sufficiency. In reality the hose passes between the tightness of my buttocks and is taped to the small of my back. You can imagine how much muscle control it takes to maintain this pose - tiptoes, legs wide straddled, sucking in oxygen all the way up that long hose, without giving any sign of doing so!
A background rich in objects and flourishes. Five red plastic butterflies, an apple tree with a half dozen chewed apple cores and a blue serpent, a vermilion devil with a flintlock rifle squeezing his wife’s nipple, a blazing nude stabbing her Hindu lover while a headless wedding guest stands by in a frock-coat, with a gravedigger in a yellow T-shirt; and in the distance those twin obsessions of the 1960s, the Moon and a nuclear mushroom - oh so many things, such richness! I have to put out flat plastic models of all these things while the dye is drying on me. Flat, because two-dimensionality is an essential part of The Gratitude of Aeschylus, unlike White Smile which called for a three-dimensional toilet bowl…and I too must seem flat and two-dimensional, my widespread legs in the same vertical plane as my body, which isn’t easy - believe me - even for the specialist...
In place, on tiptoe in green fins, legs straddled, eyes wide open, seeing everything bathed in green by my contact lenses…not heeding the dinner party, where is it? might make my eyes flicker with curiosity create some nervous excitement betray itself in a twitch or flush.
Many ways of blanking attention during the hours of the pose, for me precious hours, when identical with T’s concepts of The Woman. Let mnemonic jingles loose in my head or advertising lyrics. Silently chant mantras and sutras. Mouth the syllable OM mentally.. Consider koans, what is the sound of one hand clapping. Attempt to reach a million by counting up in tens. Start a tape-loop of thoughts swinging round my head, doesn’t matter what they are. Start telling myself a story, about anything, never get beyond the opening lines, over and over in new forms seeking perfection. Visualize a light year. Hypnotise myself by staring at a light or a shiny surface till the whole room fades out, only the bright light fills the universe, float up to meet it weightless bodiless. All these techniques taught in Image School.
This is a tape-loop of thoughts, doesn’t matter what they are, in place, on tiptoe in green fins, legs straddled, eyes wide open, seeing everything…not heeding…
Round the table they’re eating raw live lobster, shells stripped away from neatly-diced foamy pink backs, from which they pluck tiny cubes of flesh with their lacquer chopsticks, intact feelers questing the air vaguely, leg joints flexing in and out gently in a parody of motion.
The lady of the house kneels on the mats beside each man in turn, splashing Johnnie Walker Black Label into the tiny porcelain cups.
The guest, drinking, not eating as much as he ought to, art expert revered by everyone, has been like a father to his corpulent host; who is red-faced and always looks overheated as if somebody is busy cooking him, who secretly prefers a hand of poker.
‘So you’re still with this Yokoo brought-to-life thing?’
Turning a shade redder with concern, the gas-ring under him hotting up, the host looks worried sick. Mistake to say ‘Why yes, shouldn’t I be?’
‘Maybe the market is turning against him’ he theorizes, trying to catch the guest’s suggestion on the wing. If I’m fast I can swap her with one of my less enlightened friends? Hot tips in art are so hard to understand, harder than the I Ching’s hexagrams as used in business.
‘Now I didn’t say anything wrong with Yokoo. He was a good boy. But what’s life that you bring something to it, that’s the irony . .
‘Fill his glass,’ whispers.
‘As if poor Yokoo is some sort of hologram - you know holograms?’
Nod. Of course a businessman knows holography, information storage and retrieval…but is he being goaded with his knowledge?
‘Holography, yes, so we shoot our laser beams at him, Hey Presto, up he jumps, rescued from flatland. But what is more true art this I ask you my boy information retrieval - or creation of it!’
Boiling a shade redder, ‘…which is most use to you, storing data or pulling it out again…’
‘Exactly! Now you’re catching on. An artist - or a businessman! Listen my boy while I read you this telex.’ Fumbling in his kimono sleeves, for a crumpled photostat. ‘ANTENNAE OF THIS MULTICELLULAR ORGANISM HUMANITY PROBE THE ENVIRONMENT NOT SO MUCH TRANSMITTERS AS RECEIVERS THE SENSUAL LABORATORY THE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARCHEOLOGY AND THE RANDOM SAMPLES WE TAKE OF OUR ENVIRONMENT ARE DEVICES TO EXPAND OUR ABILITY TO ABSORB etcetera etcetera SIGNED MARK BOYLE?’
Urgent need to know, more Johnnie Walker.
‘When did this message arrive?’
‘Sixty years ago! I’ve had it up my sleeve since then.’
Head sunk in hand, to his wife’s alarm. More Johnnie Walker.
‘Can’t understand, can’t understand, just a businessman.’ Large tears, fat boiled out of his face, sweat of panic as the stocks plunge. ‘Art moves in cycles, hope you can ride one!’
‘Do you mean…my Yokoos are done for? Who’s this Mark Boyle?’
‘Forget about him, primitive level of technology, I guess he just sprayed plastic on the street then peeled it off in squares and hung them up to exhibit, but we can do something about his ideas now, let me show you…’ Fumbling in the huge kimono sleeves again, knocking over the porcelain cup, which the wife swiftly sets up again and tops up. Pushing a lobster still questing its antennae to one side, he places a red plastic box on the lacquer table
‘It’s a network, covers the whole city, they beam arbitrary squares of environment, change it as often as you like, but one has no more value than any other because they ALL have total value.’
Pressing a button, a square of fuzzy lines springing up in front of the alcove where the girl poses in The Gratitude of Aeschylus, blotting her out, swimming into focus as a patch of gritty ground, some pebbles embedded, a used matchstick, a slurred footprint.
‘Arbitrary art the art of true impermanence…because this site no longer exists in the same form, and the computer will never beam the same site twice. Twice unrecoverable, and that’s what true art is - the unrecoverable moment. Mistake up till now has been to try to keep the supposedly significant moment alive for ever and ever, but look, this site is as significant as any other so it contains all significance, the same can be said of the next site…’
Johnnie Walker, stabbing the button again, The Gratitude of Aeschylus briefly visible, a new site hazing in, focussing…
a square of concrete with turd in one corner, grainy crumbling texture excretion of thick sand…
‘…changes the site automatically every 24 hours in case you get attached to it!’
…in place, on tiptoe in green fins, legs straddled, eyes wide open, seeing everything bathed in green by my contact lenses…not heeding the dinner party, WHERE IS IT?
So fashions change. Now it’s my turn to join the Manet girls and Utamoro girls on the country fair and store roof circuit. My Master has put me out with the trash.
All the costumes and plastic figures to be sent to Dream Island our rubbish reef in the bay, and I am standing by them, free to claim them now they’re trash…
But how much can I carry away - and where can I carry it to-and what’s the use?
It’s almost worth going to Dream Island myself. Why, I could live on the discarded food-gifts that pass direct from the Store to the Rubbish Island (almost) without any intervening stage being opened by recipients (such is our wealth). Dress up in my roles against the backdrop of rubbish and feel at home - for I am rubbish now, in the eyes of fashion. A failure of nerve? Gradually allowing my poses to relax, moving a little at first, then a lot, till at last I was actually running about the island dressed as T’s girls? Seems attractive - luridly attractive - but it wouldn’t be my art as I know it - it might be something else, nearer to madness... Yet with more purity by far than the show booth or the store roof! I’d soon be respected by the outcasts - the other outcasts - who ferry the rubbish barges to and fro from the City, become maybe their Madonna, Mona Lisa, Angel, Onan Partner, in blue and red stockings with a pinned-up skirt, hairy armpits and silver total-reflection contact-lenses. Set up the beachguard and the red devil with the flintlock musket and the wedding guest as if for gunnery practice on the hills of compressed cans and buildings of bottles, image sentries of our life. Straddle the plastic horseback with a fish skeleton in my teeth. Bare my breasts and brush them with toothpaste peering through the smog for a vision of Mt. Fuji. The huge cut-out train in the oily surf lapping the metal rocks of the island, bearing me on its buffers waving the barges in with a giant plastic flower. Clipping on the tiny plastic breasts of Bardot I’d suckle the mice that scamper over the food-hills. With my striped sunshade by the striped water I’d wait for faceless people to admire me.
To live T’s scenes at last in their totality!
The Grid moves over the City, at random, sectioning it into areas two meters square, beaming images of these to discerning homes where they are reproduced flat and vertical in the places of honour. Sectioned roofing, crowd heads, tyre marks, footprints, flat spaces, rough spaces, rubble, hats, railway line, stone, glass, metal, turd The City can’t be said to be dirty or clean, chaotic or ordered, natural or unnatural. Each two-meter section is what it is what it is, includes all the others in itself, is part of TOTAL REALITY. The new art is popular with industrialists, the sanitation department, the town planners. The City cannot be spoiled ever again. The City IS. Its molecular geometry is innocent, elemental.
The Grid sections off the head and shoulders of a girl with total-reflection contact lenses in her weeping eyes reclining on a heap of crushed soft drink cans and cabbages travelling in a barge on a black greasy waterway. For 24 hours she halts in the grainy screening of the image, and hangs in the place of honour, till the computer selects another section at random, scuffed earth with a trail of impact craters arcing across it left by drops of dog piss.
But she is already on Dream Island, grinning, with her tongue sticking out.
|Robert Macauley - Drawing|
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