Just another art girl with a museum-gallery complex
#6: la petite mort
Sometimes I feel like I’m floating outside of myself, anchored by the logic of a dream. Surely none of this can be real. It’s a joke. This morning I wasn’t even turned on – how could I have been? – but I started touching myself anyway. You were there too. When it was meant to be getting serious, I laughed. I didn’t want you to think it was you. It wasn’t you. Clearly you thought it might be you. Who wouldn’t be offended? Who wouldn’t be insecure? Who wouldn’t feel like the moment had been ruined? I told you it wasn’t you but I had to give more of an explanation than that. So I told you that sometimes, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry. Then I cried.
Writing is a kind of crying: a self-soothing, a public expression of interiority, an ask (sometimes for comfort, sometimes for something you don’t know if you can ask for). Some people are ugly criers. Some people are very restrained. I was bragging the other night about how restrained my crying is. I likened it to Cate Blanchett or Naomi Watts winning an Oscar: a single tear, or even two elegant rivers running down relaxed cheeks. Just sprinting down hot and wet and without anger. Running with the free flow of something routine. I’ve cried a lot, silently, and learnt how to make it look placid.
A placid lake is a lie – and an obvious one at that. Everyone knows that what’s underneath is volatile, full of movement, unknowable but, without a doubt, full of happening. I found it so funny when you expressed your surprise at the realisation that I had a rich emotional world you weren’t aware of, or a part of. Why would you be? You don’t know me. I’m not some singular punchline just because I come across as singularly interested in topping.
A lot of people tell me that I have top energy. So many people say this kind of thing to me, so often, that I almost feel like the universe is trying to yell at me: Emma, your presence screams. You even made a joke about it, knowing that jokes can rip right into insecurities but not knowing exactly where my soft spots were. Or maybe you thought that a joke was the only way that you could enter into revealing the potentiality for violence that’s in every, even minute, expression of self. You text me, do you really think you have BDE? My understanding of BDE is that it’s like, a quiet confidence – understated. You have such a presence when you’re in a room and talking to people…. Trying to compensate for something? 😉
Compensating, compromising, commiserating, controlling and consoling can be performed simultaneously – as is the art of being in the world (and the art of being serially violent). Which I guess is what I’m talking about: the art of being in the world as a moving through, opening up and foreclosing of space. There’s a problem inherent in speaking because, at its most utopian, it should be an opening into a lateral exchange but, in its reality, it’s also always an act of closing, a curtailing, a containing and a kind of claiming. I was embarrassed when you alluded to small dick anxiety being an explanation of my personality because it alluded to something I already knew was potentially gross in my articulation of self.
I’ve been thinking about the potential grossness of people and relations. I’ve been thinking about how true love and true care demand paranoia. I’ve been thinking about how love, care and respect are acts of vigilance and fear, more than acts of generosity or dedication. Or maybe their genuine expression demands generous amounts of fear (of hurting another) and a vigilant dedication to not causing, or being complicit in, harm. To have a contractual duty of care or just an obligation of social care (that is: to be a person in a world that has other people in it) is to live with the neverending potential of your own abuse of power; to navigate that with the best ‘intentions’ is to be constantly interrogating your own potential for violence and complicity.
The inability to talk my way out of complicity has led me to think about what it means to scream and what it means to listen and what it means to do nothing but listen when someone is screaming (or whispering, or even just looking at you like they might have something they want you to listen to if you’d just fucking shut up and give them a sign that you’d believe them if they said something you didn’t want to hear). It’s also led me to think about the limits of talking and what’s in and outside of language. Lately I’ve been thinking both in and outside of metaphors; thinking about what it means to take up space and what it means to concede ground – what it means to open the door for someone else and what it means to not enter the building. I’ve been thinking a lot about boycotting, gossiping, and whistleblowing. I’ve been thinking about being transparent and having privacy.
There is no privacy in the private; the whole world is in your bed. The whole world is in your head. But just because the whole world is there with you, well, that doesn’t mean that the world is there for you. Just imagine being at an opening night, full of people. And you know, nascently and very immediately, that most of them know that so-and-so harrasses people. Some of them might even know that so-and-so harassed you. Or they might just be able to put two and two together, since those who cast long shadows implicate and interpolate those in their proximity, into the spectre of their ‘rumoured’ violence. But no one is saying anything. And no one’s really listening either – because if they were listening then they’d start speaking, right? Or writing? Or publishing? But they’re not doing any of that. They’re not doing anything at all. Except sometimes they host panels about feminism and sometimes they teach gender critique. And sometimes you laugh, inappropriately, because what else can you do? Surely none of this can be real. The gap between rhetoric and action is a joke.
Just another art girl with a museum-gallery complex has been an ongoing series of sexy art scene confessionals published over the summer and winter months of 2017/18 on Conversations. #6: la petite mort marks the end of this series. Don’t be so vain to think this column is about you.