A novel about desire / / A novel about art.
Monument II (Folly)01
At this time Elsa lived in a city in the middle of England. It was one of those middling cities that can appear in turn to have emerged biliously from the swampy craters, and also quietly magnificent with certain cornices of yellow stone evoking a sense of solace. Elsa was late. Elsa was absent. Corey looked again at the time displayed on his phone. He was always waiting. Often this waiting was experienced in motion, as a vector. The waiting was segmented, portioned. His waiting was funded by several hours each week teaching various creative software to groups of young people. ‘Young people’ was the term they used. Occasionally they asked what he did with the rest of his time, and how he got there. The telling of this sparse narrative would vary according to the particular young adult that had asked. He wondered about their future, and tried to imagine their sense of it. A child would still be of the size and proportions that make such tiny beings fall over frequently, to which tears come hot and quickly. He thought children must be getting younger. The lost pastime of picking scabs. He had nothing to do now but wait for Elsa. Any friends all had jobs that required a little more time. He had been waiting now for over two hours. The initial time here was spent making notes about work, and then reading. Work, was his word for the pursuit of creating art. Pieces. Works. His Practice. An empty mug was left on his table. He didn’t pay for studio space and spent an equivalent amount on coffee, which came with a desk and internet connection. At this point he had no emails to reply to. Elsa’s break had been delayed.
There was a boy. He was maybe 14. He reached out towards Corey. His father pulled him away.
“People don’t like to be touched.”
Corey felt more alone then, than ever before. He was a distinct body. People need to be touched, he thought. That’s all they need. It’s all we have. Corey noted these thoughts on a vague mental scale that ranged from a happy face to a sad face. These notations were rarely recalled but he saw some sense in the simple act of removal anyway. It showed he was aware of something wrong or occasionally good and could act accordingly. This was a happy face sliding towards sad. Happy for the gift of an answer, physical touch. Sad for its distance from resolution. On his phone he had an app that could be touched and if whilst doing so Elsa, or whomever he was linked to, also touched their own device, both would vibrate and convey a small pulse of physical reality. It was the future, apparently. But so was everything.
The official line on Corey was: Corey work’s primarily within space and context. His is a practice of arrangement. Corey observes, inhabits and researches the operations and life of specific spaces. His practice can be described as facilitating institutional critique. After initial research Corey provides detailed instructions, which are followed by the host institution or himself to restructure the specific space. In this way the spaces becoming activated.
Corey’s thoughts on his official line were not good. He believed in what he did, in its criticality, success etc. It was increasingly tiring to practice a non-practice in such a crowded culture of non-practices. It was also a suggestion to him. He didn’t seek to impose any authority. This is why he didn’t mind when certain curators had diligently printed his emailed instructions and research and mounted them on a gallery wall, or the time they had instead been published as an exhibition programme. His was a practice of distance, that developing opportunities constrained and reeled in. And it was only through such opportunities that he could continue his practice in any form. He often dreamt of inventing pseudonyms and disguises to begin a different practice. To be seen doing so would discredit his practice thus far irreversibly. Besides, he was rigorous and fair in his research, the actions were not as slight as they might appear.02
Elsa worked in retail. By doing so she could afford a mortgage on a place in the city and feel connected to the circles of activity there. Corey practically lived there although his clothes were in a suitcase rather than drawers and his belongings were mostly kept in a backpack that he left the apartment with each day. They had made purchases together, a table, kitchen utensils etc. that were all considered objects that would eventually furnish some future, shared home. This future was still vague and mostly unimaginable. Elsa felt a kind of drawn out presence. Days at the store were predictable. Everyone was either there, abstractly, earning a wage to enable some other dream -entirely limited to success in a creative field, the arts- or as a climber and dedicated facilitator of the consumer’s needs. She engaged in conversations discussing the best sequence of items on a rail that could last entire shifts, and in which she could find some peaceful nothingness. It was the feeling that the whole exercise, was irrelevant, in terms of literal sales and re the World, and simply, life. There was also the implied performance of the whole thing, and the idea that by assuming this deliberation it would appear more human. Contemplative beings. It also gave the things value. Imbued the rails with purpose.
It wasn’t that Corey had to be there. The city was a distraction. It was the wild. It was background noise and information. He would listen to the stories people told each other. It was these stories, his continual submersion within them that he felt were the cause of his growing sense of alienation.
Elsa dropped some peppers into the wire basket. All red. She moved along the aisles, slowly, devising different meals and cross checking them with the ingredients already stored at home. She enjoyed cooking with Corey. It was one of the things she thought she might miss if they ever broke up. It was probably first on the list of reasons she wouldn’t want them too. She thought about energy. The transfer of these peppers into the rendering of drawings and more likely the straightening of rails. She didn’t want to break up with Corey. She believed in quantification, the examination of the ways she chose to spend her time. They were seeing a film later in the evening. The weight of the basket reminded her of Corey’s backpack. The supermarket played the same bubbling music as her shop. Fuzzy love songs by people her age. That was something she was beginning to feel acutely. The fact that her and Corey were now that age. The age when everything comes together. It was one of the things they spoke about. They called it The Age of Emergence. It was experienced as something sad that they thought should have felt good, comfortable and rewarding. The world was a scary place. The world was the kind of place that if you stopped to look could all fall apart.
Elsa worked mostly in a small sketchbook. She filled the pages with designs for sets from various plays or fictitious scenarios developed in her head. There were costume designs too. They were never used though, and the drawings would not depict actors or people within the costumes. They were shells. She felt lucky enough to have produced work for several artist-led spaces which had taken the form of sculptural sets. There was a space in the city that seemed to like her. She was an associate member, although they always spoke of her becoming more involved.
It seemed all Corey needed was the immediate presence of someone else’s suffering to begin actually making work. Actually understanding, or beginning to relate the accumulated research to a course of action. It was moments like this that allowed him to distance himself from his own immediate problems; unemployment, inability to make real decisions. The city was full of suffering. The city was untouched people.Elsa walked around the carpet display again. Her fingers dipped into the pile. She was early. Corey would be there soon. She liked the one that had a bright jungle foliage print. She imagined it within her living room. This was the room that also contained the kitchen and potentially a dining room table. Since they had occupied the apartment the only table had been a coffee table. The room had wooden floors that were usually warm from the apartments below. The walls were white and mostly empty. They had a plastic box somewhere with various images and prints that Elsa had intended to hang. Corey had purchased a drawing from Elsa soon after they met. He had it nicely framed and one day borrowed tools from the studio and hung the work. It was a stage more ornamental than she tended to draw now. The proscenium arch was elegantly carved. These were echoed and accentuated in the stage design depicted, which was a layered blue lagoon. It seemed almost empty.03
Elsa was often envious of the unspeakable nature of much of Corey’s work. It was hard to articulate much of an opinion about it, in an initial sense. It was as if it was automatically deeper, moving below surface language. She always felt that in her own practice everything had to be articulated to the point of being invisible. Corey was a burden.
Corey scrolled through the images again. Various photos of a space somewhere in Sweden. It’s a university affiliated, artist-led space. An intern has taken the photographs. They are almost exactly to Corey’s specifications. Close-up shots of various corners and angles created by the space, taken mid-morning. In several photographs there is a hand. This extends into the compositions resting on various horizontal surfaces. This is the only apparent flourish, or divergence from Corey’s instructions. It’s almost always the case that this kind of thing happens. People care about things like this. The space looks warm, and soft. He extends an arm at a crooked angle, trying to imitate the photograph. It doesn’t appear to be the interns own hand. The space is a mystery to him. For a long time he has been resisting the urge to tell a space to simply turn all their furniture upside down. There’s downy blond hair on the arm, catching sunlight. He can’t remember if they had agreed to fly him out there. On a separate sheet of paper Corey had already drawn a careful plan of the space. It was a large rectangle with two spaces for doors. One of these joined to another smaller rectangle. These were the limits of his space. The territory. He made a couple of markings, based on objects visible in the photographs. He would cross reference these with a list provided by the intern, later. In daydreams he would imagine specifying the location of motes of dust in the light. He imagined specifying also, now, the precise angle of each tiny hair on the interns arm. Maybe it would be enough to specify the recording of these positions. An observation, which would render these aspects new, merely by existing. He wondered if this kind of observation could be applied to oneself. And that by writing down the vectors of his own arm hairs, he would become altered, transformed, new. Anew. He rendered the situation in his mind as a slightly sloping smile.
Elsa sat alone at the coffee shop table. She had time still before she needed to open the shop. None of the other staff were there yet, she could see the doors by way of a reflection on the metal facade opposite her window. The waiter approached and asked again if she’d like a pastry with her coffee. She said no thanks, and he stood there a while making small talk. She had walked with Corey to the station. He was going with a group of local artists to visit a space that operated from an old farm, converted in the 60s and evolving through various commune type iterations into a studio and project space as engaged in contemporary critical art dialogue any city dwelling space. Elsa had been keen to see the space but had decided against changing her shifts. She had left Corey at the station with the other artists and walked back through the park, circumventing the direct path through the streets and winding up at the coffee shop, just opened. She had ordered green tea. Her sketchbook lay closed on the table. She didn’t understand how Corey could spend so much time working in places like this. She wasn’t sure why she hadn’t gone with the group. She believed it was important for her and Corey to be a part of the network of artists in the city. Yet the ability to act on this came in waves. There was still a lingering sense of submission and compromise, in embedding oneself here. It was where she had gone to art school and close to where she’d grown up. She didn’t always take her sketchbook with her and its presence on the table reminded her of the conscious decision she’d made to bring it. Corey had gone anyway. They could have gone together another time. Maybe they would. It sometimes felt strange to Elsa that she hadn’t known Corey her whole life. It was as if she only realised the fact when actually recalling pre-art school memories and she would notice Corey’s absence from each scene. This absence was something that seemed to project itself into thoughts about the future. She wondered if the talk on the train was about art, in any useful way, or just trapped chatter about the weather or other people they knew.
The group moved into the small studio apartment. It was more apartment than studio. He must have opened the door, but by the time Corey was in the room, the occupier, the resident artist, Albus Finch, was sat on the small sofa with the rest of the group still stood, in a loose semicircle around him. The blinds were down and the room was lit by gently humming computer screen and a yellow lamp next to the sofa. The bed was unmade. Various boards and canvases were leaning, several deep, around all the areas of wall unpopulated by desk, shelves and various furniture and appliances. Everything appeared slightly veiled in the low muggy light. Albus’s face was weary. He rubbed his eyes, pushing them deep into their sockets. No one knew what to say or where to look. The group had been led into the room by one of the curators of the space. She had been smiling the whole time they’d been there and now, in the room, in the growing silence, it only wavered for a moment, like a twitch. Albus sighed and seemed to mimic the curator’s smile. A couple of people nodded encouragingly. He began to speak from his seated position. Corey was aware now of the dull stream of conversation stemming from a small radio set underneath one of the lamps.
“I’ve been here for 6 months now.”
This statement alone caused Finch to pause and contemplate it, both for the length of time it signified and the sound of his own voice. The advertised length of tenure was a maximum of two months.04
“We just can’t get rid of you, can we?”
The curator said. Albus looked mortified.
“Well, you’re preparing for your big show. That’s why, we invited Albus to stay longer. We feel it’s important to offer artists stability, support and confidence where possible. You were invited to show in New York and it made sense to develop the work you had already started here. Why don’t you tell us a bit about that Albus?”
Finch was still seated. The sofa was low and with his feet square in front of him his knees pointed upwards. This was how Finch was sitting for the most part, with his elbows dug in just before the knees and his hands gesticulating distractingly near his face. Not that this was distracting for Corey, or the others, but more a source of continual surprise for Albus himself. He seemed to be performing to his own surprise. He didn’t really need it, but this proved further evidence to Corey that a strange enigmatic presence must be cultured to attain any level of standing within the arts, regardless of work. Finch alternated between the elbows on knees and throwing his arms across the width of the sofa and pointing at objects around the room, at which point his feet would twist into a kind of vertical cross-legged kneel. Corey studied the open video project on the computer screen. It seemed to be composite shots of details of the work around the room, that presumably tracked smoothly across the screen printed surface. Albus spoke for a while with growing energy and enthusiasm about his work. He was interested in archives and the physicality of the things. He had been in the studio/apartment for 6 months, working on this. Someone interjected. Albus again rubbed his eye sockets aggressively.
“Well, in London...”
he began, and then floundered. The curator offered the space motto,
“It’s different here.”
Albus seemed annoyed.
“Look, in London, you have to be places, all the time, you have to maintain a presence. It’s a party culture. At least that’s where I fell. It was good to escape that for a while, to reconnect with what I’m doing, in a different space.”
The nodding again. It was beginning to seem like Finch was there under final-warning kind of situations from his Gallerist. There was investment riding on him and the objects produced from this stint of exclusion. Someone asked if he’d be going back to his old London studio after leaving the apartment. He paused for a while, as if really trying to consider the question.05
“Honestly, I don’t know. Right now, I’m here, and there’s all this work that I’m finishing, its run its course, almost. And then, New York. And then, I don’t know.”
Someone seemed to be about to ask if he’d like to stay longer here, but the curator interrupted and thanked Finch, initiating a softly slapping applause that shivered around the room. Finch remained seated as the group left, walking again past the unmade bed, the accumulated possessions. As the door closed Corey heard the radio volume rise.
The group stood in a field already dark and indistinct as the sun went pink in the sky. The curator gave up trying to open a door to a small cabin, that was alternately writer’s retreat and music venue. The bodies of the different artists were inky shadows, their movement hazy and fading into the brush beyond the field.
someone murmured with the face pressed against the one of the shed windows. Sara appeared next to Corey. Sara was another graduate from the same year as Corey and Elsa. She was now part of the group programming the main artist-led space in the city, Projector. They shared a look of weariness at the enthusiasm of the majority of the group around the shed.
“Corey, do you think it’s possible to make work, that will last?”
“How do you mean?”
“The prophetic works. The ones that, to paraphrase Ginsberg, speak to people in a hundred years.”
“It feels like out here, things could last. It’s slowed down, noticeably. That’s strange too, how it’s so obvious, being here.”
“That’s probably why its on my mind. I feel like we’ve been here for days already.”
“But I don’t know. Is that what’s important?”
“Corey, you always act so serious, you’re still a thinker aren’t you?”
“Sure, Sara, I think.”
“So come on then. Prophetic works?”
The group was now moving, trailing behind the curator who was leading them to the last part of the tour which was a communal eating area.
“I move things around,”
Sara was quiet now, waiting for Corey. They used to talk a lot about art together, and they were falling into the old routine.06
“I think, we, us as a society, are conditioned -I’m thinking about Finch’s haunted face back there, to not believe in the future.”
“Ok, sure, that’s a prominent critical dialogue right now. Not particularly well articulated in our own circles, but further afield, more professionally.”
“Like, its subconscious, below any articulated views on war, peace love etc.”
“No, not exactly. Just, the end.”
“Maybe so. Which is why we are trapped in this mode of production which seems oriented towards momentary gratification, like even if it lasts, it is as an archived mass.”
They had reached the food hall now. They all sat at the long table and someone poured coffee.
“I still prefer stasis. Is that more hopeful?”
“I guess it doesn’t really matter, the physical existence of the thing in a hundred years is besides the point. It’s about a work that is human enough to speak to someone living completely outside our frames of reference.”
“Otherwise it’s just historical evidence...”
They were quiet a while, drinking coffee. The others continued to chatter. Corey was thinking about his work. It felt as if he was trying to find its origin, which he felt instinctively wasn’t a point in time actually before any of the ‘movements’ but must be instead some point of understanding or knowing that he had found along the way. He looked at Sara. She seemed happy, and confident. It seemed like forever since they were studying. It had been an indulgent period of learning that he hadn’t been able to find time for recently.
“We should get together more often Corey. I miss talking to you.”
“Come by the space. We’ll set something up. You should think about getting a studio too.”
Corey had been attending a night class for nearly a semester. He was there through a scheme encouraged to get artists qualified in skills that might also be useful to their practice. The class was in a computer programming language that could be used to make things. It was, so far, mostly about moving data around. It was like a streamlined version of his practice in physical spaces. His screen returned an error. He looked down at the notes he’d made in a small pad, mostly fragments of the tutor’s opening remarks, and not entirely useful. The tutor was about Corey’s age or younger. Probably younger. The rest of the class were a mix of undergraduates trying to catch up for particular modules and various, older, non-collegiate adults. The tutor was stood behind Corey. He was waiting for Corey to figure out or at least attempt to rectify the mistake, before offering additional guidance. It was the kind of thing Corey knew he did when he was running workshops with kids. The difference was that in Corey’s classes the only requirement was engagement, there weren’t specific outcomes. It was exploration. He realised the cause of his error and input the commands. The code ran. This was obviously about exploration too, but there was a whole different language to learn first, by which he could articulate. The software and levels that he taught at, were more like a regional dialect. Graspable, and familiar enough. The tutor made a satisfied hum, and turned on his heels.
Elsa was at home. She was lying on the new rug. She stared at the ceiling. It was white, smooth, invisible. To the side of Elsa’s vision, the centre of the ceiling, a thick blue cord hung and supported a large light bulb. There was a ceramic pin just above the bulb with excess cord wrapped around it. The blue matched the rug. She turned her head until the pile appeared as a soft blur at the edge of her vision. She was trying to think about work. New designs. She had an received an email earlier in the evening from a friend who had graduated the same year as herself and Corey. She was now curating for a space in London and hoped Elsa would be involved in a project about performance. This would involve a period of communication and discussion between Elsa, her friend, and a PHD student who was producing a text. It would happen within the next few months, dependent on funding. The application was pending. She had emailed back immediately in a wave of excitement. Corey seemed impressed. She would book some time off work to dedicate to the project. To make decisions. She missed Corey, suddenly and unexpectedly, but only for a moment. This was experienced as a physical sensation, a muscle memory, perhaps, of his body against hers: the specific resistance and tension in each limb. Her thoughts drifted like this, finely meandering between the formation and conceptualisation of practice, and similar negotiations and navigations of her sense of self and relationship. Sometimes they would wait to eat together after Corey returned from class. She pushed her self upwards into a crisp lotus position. She took a bite from the half eaten slice of toast gone cold on a plate next to her knee. Elsa seemed to remember the door to the balcony was open, she felt cold, at least her arms felt cold to her touch. She stood slowly, in the same crisp, yogic movements which she’d only ever half grasped. She imagined she’d take actual classes some day. Her experience so far had always been confined to domestic settings, following different lycra-clad instructors with sun tans and teeth-filled smiles at 360p. The air was cool. It was late spring, the evening light. She stood for a moment on the balcony, her eyes resting on the familiar rooftops and building facades. Smoke was rising from some eternal source. There was a plant on the balcony that Corey knew when to water. The wooden floor was still warm against her bare feet. She stood only for a moment before stepping again inside. She changed her mind about closing the door. The sounds of the city always held some comfort, like the smoke, in their timeless duration. Instead she crossed the living room and retrieved an old oversized hoodie from her wardrobe. She returned to the rug, and sat now with her back leaning against the sofa and her knees drawn up. Her journal had been laying on the sofa and she retrieved it now, balancing it on her knees, open and ready to collect information.07
Corey had been thinking about the pale haired arm. The freckled forearm, wrist and hand. It was a growth on his abdomen, like a deformed udder, and simultaneously a ship far out at sea, sails full and shrinking further. The existence of the limb had become too loaded, however, to contribute to any physical proposal for the space. Although, as he scanned over the text and collated research he was beginning to compile, he did begin to conceive his actions as essentially a negation of the limb. An impossible erasure. He had pages of diagrams attempting to display the mechanics by which the photos could have been taken, either by the owner of the arm or someone else. These protagonists were labelled Intern A and Intern B.
Elsa was making her way slowly into Projector. Corey had decided not to come. He had told the Swedish space that he would send them final drafts of his report and instructions the next day, but was now fretting they weren’t good enough. Elsa had offered to stay and help out, but he insisted she go. The work was a new commission by a London-schooled artist. Occupying the space almost completely -there was a border of approx. 1.5m, was a complex arrangement of curtains that hung from rigging attached to the ceiling’s large steel girders, and fell to an inch above the floor. The curtains formed a kind of maze, or series of portals, through the space. They could be navigated interiorly or from the outside. Those positioned in this outer zone were mostly stationary in small groups drinking the cheap beer, and talking and watching the people entering the curtains, spying ankles and feet beneath the ripples in the fabric. In the entrance to the space there had been a local band playing a low-key set of garage psychedelic rock. The music swam hazily into the space. Kids smoked outside. The lighting consisted of several rigs of lamps with different coloured gels, illuminating delicately the exterior of the curtains. The generic strip lighting buzzed away, but mostly dropped directly within the curtains. The curtains themselves were a range of fabrics, some, which appealed instantly to Elsa were the heavy velvet of theatres, and cinemas. Some were patterned. Some had motif’s or emblems stitched on, at eye-level. Someone squeezed Elsa’s arm. She turned. It was Sara. Still holding Elsa’s arm she leaned over and kissed her cheek. Sara always greeted like this. It wasn’t exactly pretentious, but it was a way of acting successfully, or emulating perceived maturity.
“I’m so glad you came. Have you explored the curtains yet? That’s Elise over there.”
She pointed to a girl, similarly pretty, dressed and aged, who was observing the curtains with an obvious knowledge of the interior layout and design, and something like a comparison of expected affect, versus reality, playing visibly across her face for each person appearing from the curtains.
“No, I only just arrived. It’s nice. It seems nice.”
“I’m glad you came though. I have news!”
Elsa smiled suspiciously.
“I got a residency. I can’t wait.”
“It’s at Tony’s Place. Can you believe that?”
“Wow, London. What about this place though?”
“I’ll still be involved... just from a distance.”
“Besides, it’s a few months. It’s not forever.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to come back here, afterwards though?”
“Sure. I’m just excited about being there. Making work. And I heard about your show too, with Jess.”
“Did she tell you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“It’s just, up in the air still. Funding dependent.”
“It’ll work out. And I’ll be just around the corner. It’ll be fun.”
They were quiet for a moment. Watching the movement of people around the space. They were almost all about the same age or else dressed the same age, and artists themselves. Everyone had a practice somewhere. The whole thing seemed very conscious, and was a mix of feigned nonchalance and genuine joy and social interactions.08
“Are you still working at the shop?”
“Yes. I am. It’s not so bad.”
“I saw Corey the other day. I miss seeing you two.”
“I’ve been thinking about taking some time.”
The song outside ended and a few people applauded.
“No, that’s not what I meant. From the shop. For the work with Jess. I want to feel like I can concentrate for a while.”
“I know what you mean. You know Corey said something, it was, about how he thinks we can’t make meaningful work anymore because we all think the world’s going to end.”
Elsa laughed. She could imagine Corey saying something like that.
“Well you know Corey.”
Sara laughed too.
Elsa moved on, into the curtains. The entrance was narrow and required the participant to push or lift the heavy velvet drape a little. Elsa stroked it aside slowly. Once inside the curtains seemed to open up. There was space. And it emerged, about as many people within the curtains as without. Elsa felt the fabric close to her face. There was something dramatic about perceiving this, especially with the denser materials, that looked more suited to a floor: as if she was not standing, but suspended horizontal above the material. Elsa moved further into the labyrinth. A small child appeared briefly, crawling on its belly along the floor, from a green, grass-textured hanging, disappearing underneath a dull brown fur piece. The sound from the band felt still, absorbed by the curtains, frozen resonance. Elsa peeled back a final curtain. She had arrived at what appeared to be the central void. This was not noticeably marked in any way by the curtains, but rather appeared from the previous hanging arrangements. There was a boy there. He smiled at Elsa. She didn’t recognise him.
He hadn’t seemed surprised by Elsa’s arrival, and seemed to be expecting her to say something more.09
“I’m sorry... is this part of the work?”
He laughed. But paused briefly as if considering the possibility. Elsa studied an emblem stitched into a section of fabric that was hanging with another curtain beginning perpendicular to it just off center from the emblem, so that it was only half visible, from this chamber.
“I don’t know. I’m not here with any instructions or specified role to perform if that’s what you mean. But then again, I am here. We’re moving within this space, and now we’re talking.”
“I feel like I’m in a very safe place. This whole thing, its really moving me, spiritually, at a deep level.”
The boy studied Elsa. She didn’t feel embarrassed or under any obligation to stay, or leave.
“Would you like to dance?”
“So this is part of the work?”
“No. I mean, it’s not fiction. It’s not a preconceived performance. It’s real. You know what I like about emails?”
“That it’s not essential to reply immediately. I really value that space.”
The boy was swaying visibly now, in time with the bounced rhythm. Elsa smiled.
She mirrored his movements. They moved softly, quietly. The shuffled closer together and held hands.
The song ended. The applause sounded like rain. They stood apart again. Elsa stepped backwards into the curtain until it enveloped her. The boy smiled and maybe nodded. The fabric fell darkness over Elsa’s vision. She turned and inhaled its dusty fragrance. She took another step and it fell now away from her, and she was alone in another chamber. She followed the path through several more curtains until she reached the point she’d entered. Everything appeared strangely stalled in time, by its similarity to when she entered and her own marked change. She noticed Elise watching her carefully. She felt suddenly that she’d like to sit down and left the main space to join several people on benches that lined a wall of the foyer area facing the band. The thing she felt most was the realisation that what had just happened was the affecting power of good art, which was surely what it was all about, but still entirely rare. This was sublime communication, spiritual nourishment for her godless existence. It was something beyond the calm of most things she liked or could presently remember. She felt emptied.10
Corey followed several students into the large lecture theatre. It belonged to a university that was not the one he had attended and was more closely affiliated with the nearest seriously funded contemporary art institution, which resulted in a whole different set of student output each time it got around to degree show. Corey picked a seat in the wings, hoping to appear less conspicuous. The lecture was a public event although as the auditorium filled it was almost entirely present students of the course. They moved around the space with a displayed sense of ownership. The lecture was a talk by a well known artist who was preparing a touring show which would, in several months, be in the university affiliated institution. It was by some error of programming or unspecified delay that the lecture was commencing before the exhibition. The artist, a middle-aged man, paced anxiously at the front. Corey scanned the audience, still filing in, for familiar faces. There were several he recognised, although no friends. He was slowly remembering the fact that they nearly all had jobs now that required this kind of daytime presence. Elsa was at work. Corey had walked with her to the store, and then spent a couple of hours delivering a workshop. He was feeling nervous now. The smell and general motion of large groups of students was something he’d started to fear. It was a tribe with which he no longer belonged, and yet he had never really felt any kinship with. He found himself registering the unfolding event as a face with wide eyes and a steadily drooping upturned mouth. It was essentially related to some feelings about ‘opportunity’ with which seemed conflated with the whole intern’s hand situation. Corey distracted himself by sketching variations of a diagram for a space and the movements of the objects within it. It was part of an ongoing effort to formalise his notation of movements, or an attempt to clarify the logic employed, through his choice of line weight, style and perspective etc. The range of variables were about as limited as those found in word processing software or basic web-design and utilised the same signifiers within his thoughts. This was a process that played out in all the projects he submitted to spaces and in between projects in various journals relating to imagined spaces or imagined opportunities to work with a real space. He was somewhat embarrassed by these fictional spaces and only resorted to them when the act was not wholly conscious. Eventually the auditorium seemed full enough and a lecturer from the course introduced the artist.
After a time the talk ended. It hadn’t been hugely successful. The work was unfortunately unconvincing in its immaterial state. It was supposed to be a film with all the actors removed. Corey could imagine it fleetingly. The location, thanks to some international interest, was to be the part of the Nevada desert where several scenes from Star Wars had been built. After several questions, mostly serving to further the delivers confusion of the project and a final applause people began to leave in clumpy groups. Corey decided to wait until the worst had passed. Someone leaned over from the row behind, a suddenly present head, face and voice. “Hello...” It was David. They knew each other through the city art scene and David had never officially studied but had a habit of attending the more academic conferences or lectures whenever they appeared. Corey was surprised now that he hadn’t asked a question. He was renowned for asking good questions, which many people actually regarded as a form of performance art and David himself seemed not to disagree. He disappeared and after a moment reappeared on Corey’s row and sat down next to him.
“I’m trying to lay low today. Didn’t feel like inspiring the new generation.”
He gestured to the remaining students.
“I think I liked that. I’m still struggling with the non-actuality of it, as yet.”
“Well, whether he made it already or he didn’t, it’s moot. He was talking about a work that is in another room, and I guess, by its non-fabrication, as yet, we get only his perfect version of it. Regardless of the inaccuracies manifest by his nervousness.”
“That’s ok isn’t it. To imagine work? To envisage an experience?”
“Especially, someone else’s... something exterior.”
“Yes, completely. In fact, I have a friend who helped me, journey if you like, its what she does, a kind of guide. I ingest some hallucinogenic, procured by her, I ask no questions, have no expectations, and she guided me through a night full of visions. Very intense, very real, very powerful. Of course it was all limited by her fairly mundane choice of narrative, but entirely compelling during the experience...”
Corey smiles vaguely and David continues,
“Very animalistic... primal. Erotic. Specifically, by definition, erotic. But you know, clichéd trappings, waking up with body paint, marker pen all over, occult symbols, and so on.”
The auditorium is nearly empty now, but David shows no signs of leaving nor does Corey expect him too.11
“But this, successful artist, this man, who with all his ideas is able to conjure wealth, enough to live on, and live excessively, and enjoy the state of global physical migration that his generation truly excelled at, he made me think quite directly about all of this, my own amassing of stuff.”
“We make stuff, but much more than that we use stuff. It’s like in an old cartoon when the fire hydrant gets cranked open and some schmuck is trapped at the top of the jet- a lot of energy, resources, all being used for the same stuff which is generally stuff we acknowledge very little value in. And art, in its 20s, emerging artist vernacular becomes increasingly entwined in this production. Perpetuating without revolution. Which, anyway functions, primarily online, Ok, even face to face communications, interfacing, is orchestrated by connected electronic devices, generally... and so that guy’s generation, the tourist artist, is outdated yet still incredibly glamorous. There’s much less need now for an artist to be anywhere with their stuff, directly. Screens allow a close enough experience for most of these requirements. And still that raw consumption of energy, displacement of physical mass is very appealing to our generation, which are looking nostalgically back towards this time of airplanes.”
“Corey, Corey. The circuit is still important. The Artist World Tour. It’s just the numbers have changed. But, this is all too abstract... vague notions of a professionalism we’ll likely never experience. I mean no offense, I’m only talking about numbers, percentages and wishing to spend this too rare encounter, on matters appropriate to our lives, and the choices we make now. A slightly more ethical conversation.”
David relaxed for a moment, and both he and Corey watched for a moment the discussion at the front of the auditorium between the artist, a lecturer, and curator. The lecturer was gesticulating excitedly about something. David turned again to Corey,
“Do you ever feel like you’re just going to die, and all you’ll leave is a collection of unfinished series. These collections of stuff that should be cyclical, should have closure and occupy their own terrain, but as it stands are just ongoing, unconcluded entities. And what I mean is, that, they need the closure, they need that containment, to really be useful, or begin to be useful. To be understood. And I mean, how you feel directly Corey. About your work, of movements and arrangements?”
Elsa was alone behind the till. She was the most senior employee in the store today, the acknowledgement of which was mildly depressing. She let her eyes lose focus slightly and the rails of clothes before her dissolved into pastel bokeh. She couldn’t tell whether being very still, for as long as possible, made the time pass more slowly or faster. She thought of Sara beginning her internship. A girl waved from the back of the store and did a series of dance steps in time to the downtempo chillwave currently playing. The movement followed quite formal choreography that had developed over the past season, between the different staff members. It consisted of a slight squat, into rising sidestep, after which both feet would come together again and the steps repeat. This was performed deadpan and rigidly with the beat. The girl now dancing stopped after five such steps and went into a kind of spinning cowgirl/lasso flourish. They all had these signature moves which could be dropped before, after or during the steps, but not usually alone. The moves were best performed whilst customers were in the store. Elsa waited a full 4/4 bar in continued stillness before producing a crisp four step from behind the counter out into open shop floor. She finished without flourish turned and walked normally back to the counter. The girl squealed audibly at the other end of the shop. Elsa smiled, happy to find distraction. From her position the shop floor was like an elaborate stage and she thought often about drawing it. She would conceive different rigging and precise arrangements of rails to allow for this quiet choreography. A siren outside blended with the music. The city was loud and forever. She was realising she wasn’t going to change the world. She was trying to remember what it felt like to be herself.
Corey lay on the bed, the room warmed by the morning sun. Elsa could be heard moving a chair onto the balcony. They had woken up together and had sex before speaking a word. Corey lay on his front, his left cheek sunk in a pillow. His left arm was passed underneath his body and resting, palm-up on the mattress. The duvet covered Corey from the waist down and was mostly on the floor. He could see his left hand in the wardrobe mirror. Strange and numb. He wondered if it was by some similar arrangement of mirrors that the intern had procured the photos. His hand was the only flesh he could see, save for the dark pink lump of his nose and cheeks. He heard Elsa moving back from the balcony towards the kitchen.
Elsa would often see Corey when she took a break. They’d share a packed lunch on one of the benches, either within the shopping center or one of the areas outside. She generally had an hour that was hers, but rarely used it to walk home and back again. Occasionally if Corey was actually teaching or elsewhere she’d go to the café or walk to the nearby park. These were things she rarely did with Corey although she wasn’t particularly aware of avoiding them when he was around -they just didn’t occur. Sometimes one of her friends might take a break at the same time and then they’d relax together and joke about the everyday dramas unfolding. Today, Elsa had decided to go to the café and be still and removed from the bustle of the shoppers who moved incessantly before any of the public seating spaces. As she entered however, she noticed the waiter who had been increasingly keen in attempts to engage her in conversation and was always nice enough, but her primary motive for being in that space was silence, or at least apparent removal. He approached with a small bow,
“Elsa, table for one, today?”
She hesitated, trying to judge from his smile and the volume of other customers, the potential irritation she presented.12
“I’m going to take out today, Mark.”
“Well it’s a nice day for it. What’ll it be?”
A couple had entered the café behind Elsa and Mark motioned them to a table, with a pointedly less enthusiastic smile. Mark returned to the coffee machine. He pulled two espresso cups across the tray and pulled a lever. He leant against the machine and watched Elsa. She watched him back.
“So, so. How are you doing?”
“We’re ok. It always picks up with the weather.”
They were silent a moment as the machine passed its last few gurgles of coffee. Mark appeared to be the only person working front-of-house although there would be at least two chefs in the kitchen out back. The kitchen led to the interior corridors of the shopping centre, as did the stock room of Elsa’s store. All units were connected to this interior hive, with white painted breeze-block walls and lines of coloured paint that were presumably coded somehow and signified something to certain people. Most of the stores used these passages throughout the day to drop sackfuls of waste packaging in the huge industrial bins that waited on wheels in several bays. The cafés and restaurants used the passages less as they had to deal with waste individually. It was possible though to find staff from all places some times lost in the labyrinth, stealing time alone or escaping. Elsa had witnessed this herself and also spent time herself alone in the tunnels. It seemed to be something that was accepted about working there, and almost necessary. Mark handed the coffee to Elsa, now poured into a paper cup and with a plastic lid on top. She didn’t know if he’d spent time in the tunnels. It was the kind of thing she might have heard about if anyone had seen him. He scanned the tables, checking for signs of people ready to order or pay, or simply in need of encouragement. Elsa took the cup and handed Mark several coins. He looked sadly at the money in his hand, before smiling as warmly as when Elsa had arrived,
“enjoy the sun, Elsa. Good day.”
Elsa thought about routine and the passing of time. She walked for a while, away from the shopping centre. The decisions she was making each day, the small ones, that confirmed a structure and system that allowed her to do everything she did and yet stopped her acting on silent desires. The system was robust, it was the immaculate mirror of her stage designs. She had found a bench in a small park area. It was occupied by other people all on breaks from work, mostly eating alone watching screens, listening to headphones or speaking on telephones. There were few people actively communicating with other people who were physically there. It was mostly office work as everyone was wearing suits of varying shine and sadness. Elsa, first taking a sip, placed her coffee on the bench next to her. She then pulled the small notebook she’d been carrying from a pocket and looked back over the series of drawings and notes which stretched back several months, but were mostly ongoing thoughts yet to be really resolved in the work they were hinting at. She paused on a small design of a set featuring a pair of crumbling stone columns which occupied the middle third of stage left, with a clean obsidian-like block upstage-right and with eccentric foreshortening. She imagined for a moment the movement of actors around this scene. Their costumes were simple tunics, each a different colour, and no one spoke, but instead followed a complex choreography around the stage, as if discovering the ruined columns for the first time, and the obsidian form was something familiar to them, like home or a vessel.
Corey had just dismissed class. The workshops took place on the ground floor of a converted old garage space. He counted the laptops again as he moved to each one to shut it down. They each had to be placed in their own case with the corresponding mouse and charger, as signified by faded marker pen numbers. He next began moving the cases one by one into the lockers along one wall of the workshop. He heard another group leaving from the next classroom along. After a moment, Sam, who had been teaching a t-shirt making workshop, appeared at the door.13
“Hey, Corey, how’d it go?”
Corey slid the locker door closed and locked it with a key attached to his own keyring along with those to Elsa’s apartment, a bike lock and his parents’ house.
“It was good. They’re all getting the hang of it. How was yours?”
Sam collapsed a little against the door frame.
“I’m shattered mate. Had to confiscate a few gang-related t-shirts, but not too bad. Some good kids really, when they make the effort... Tea, mate?”
Corey hesitated. He’d rather leave there as soon as possible but equally he didn’t really have any particular plans and if he had a tea now it would force him to choose the library over a coffee shop which was like a small personal victory even when contrived by decisions initiated by others.
“Yeah, sure, thanks. I’ll be up in a minute.”
The main offices and staff kitchen were located on the first floor, as a large open-plan space. Sam disappeared and Corey began picking up the various debris left around the classroom which consisted mainly of food wrappers and a few balls of paper.
Corey entered the upstairs space. Sam appeared next to him with a milky tea.14
They sat down together at a long table meant for meetings but mostly just used by staff drinking tea. There were about four other people in the office, all at desks and engaged in the various admin tasks accrued by the organisation. One of them was Geoff, who was essentially the boss. He had looked up and waved when Corey entered, and now seemed to be monitoring their tea drinking and conversation, with furtive glances. Sam spoke excitedly about his bands album which was soon to be released on a local label. Geoff eventually joined them at the table.
“So how was it today lads?”
They both nodded and said as much as they’d already said between each other.
“Good. So Sam you’ll be in next week, and Corey, I think that’s it for now.”
Corey nodded slowly, and decided it wasn’t worth finishing the tea.
“Yeah, it’s just that modules finished now, so we’ll keep in touch, but for now...”
“Ok, well, thanks.”
Geoff nodded, smiled and unclasped his hands which hand been laying on the table in front of him the whole time, appearing diplomatic and reasonable. Sam began talking about his album again, inviting Corey to the launch. Geoff stood and returned to his desk. Corey thanked Sam for the offer. He stood and retrieved his jacket and rucksack. He left. He wanted to go to the library and work defiantly on his project but instead found himself walking to a coffee shop. Sam’s tea had been bad enough and now he was running calculations of how much money would receive in his final paycheck and how much he still had saved. These figures were depressing and scary enough for him to walk past the coffee shop and eventually back to Elsa’s apartment. In the past he might have responded to the passing of such an event by working intensely on his art, that thing occupying the core of his existence and providing reconciliation with existence completely separate from these personal encounters with reality. He had always thought it transcended that. The faces imagined had lost their mouths. He spoke
“the age of emergence,”
several times into the empty apartment. He stood for a while looking at the rug. He went to the bedroom and pulled a folder from a drawer. It was a printed collection of Elsa’s drawings. Corey pulled a cushion from the sofa and used it to support his chest as he lay on the rug flipping through the pages. After a while he fell asleep, dreaming of nothing and non-existing exactly as he’d hoped. His cheek pressed heavy into the blue pile, one hand still wedged in the pages of Elsa’s book, fingertips touching the brown renderings of an empty stage floor.15
Elsa had emailed Elise after seeing the show at Projector. She had replied and suggested they meet up. She was returning to capture some film footage within the curtains. Elsa felt nervous about the meeting. She could still feel the changed sense of self initiated by the curtains. She finished cashing up and scanned the shop floor. The rails were all straight, the bins had been emptied,the music had been switched off. A girl and boy appeared from the door at the back of the shop, they were half changed out of their uniform; trainers replacing shoes, jackets and backpacks slung over one shoulder. They approached the counter patiently. Elsa signed several forms and sealed a plastic bag. “How’d we do?” the boy asked. He was younger than the other two and had a sparse beard growing haphazardly from soft cheeks.
“We did good. Made target.”
“All thanks to that cheeky Chester suit and Beachport jacket...”
“It’s a terrible suit.”
Elsa left the pair at the counter and went herself to the room at the back. She left the plastic bag in the safe. Exchanged her heels for trainers from her locker and pulled her hair which had hung around her shoulders all day into a loose bun. She shut off the lights from a switch near the door and returned to the shop floor with her leather satchel and jacket.
She set the alarm from behind the counter with a key. The boy held the door open for her with courteous aplomb.
“So you’ll put in a good word for me with your friend right, Elsa?”
The other girl said, pushing him. He laughed and fell against her. Elsa had finished locking the door and they stood in a small triangle with the bags held open in the middle. They were supposed to check that nobody was stealing stock.16
He looked anxiously at Elsa.
“Sure. Don’t worry, leave it to me.”
“Cheers mate. Okay ladies, my mum’s picking me up, have a nice evening.”
He retreated with a wave, turned lightly and walked with a bounce away. The two girls laughed. They turned and walked together in the opposite direction for a while.
Elsa reached Projector. It was early evening and the shutter was still rolled up Patrick stood under a yellow light smoking. He was one of the space directors.
“Hey Elsa, good to see you.”
Patrick held the cigarette in his teeth and shook hands with Elsa.
“Hi Patrick, is Elise still here?”
“Yeah, yeah, she’s just in the office, she said you were coming by.”
Elsa went through to the gallery space and became lost for a moment in the form of the curtains, which were lit as before, although seemed more monumental now in the quiet emptiness of the gallery. The silence was broken by the sound of the shutter lowering itself slowly. Patrick dropped the cigarette and crushed it with a toe before kicking it out into the street under the closing shutter. The room lost a shade of blue that had been bouncing in from the early evening street. Elise called out from the office. This space was adjoined to the gallery by a small set of steps and consisted of two rooms with a series tables, sofas and office chairs, and various piles of paperwork, semi-successful filing strategies and art related journals and posters. Elise was waiting for footage to transfer from card to her computer. Elsa followed her voice into the space.17
“It’s really nice to meet you Elsa.”
Elise gave her a small excited hug.
“It seems like we have a lot in common. I’m really excited about your work.”
Elsa blushed slightly.
“Thank you. I think your work really affected me, you know?”
Elise nodded for Elsa to continue.
“I started to explain in the email. But, it’s difficult to talk about, to put into words I mean. It’s this physical thing that’s taking place outside of spoken language, and I felt it and know it. I’m struck by the sadness of the rarity of this connection. Maybe it’s just taste though?”
“It could be, I suppose. We’ve both been to art school, we’re conditioned. We are blind to a lot of things, and also able to move directly, succinctly to others.”
The card finished uploading and Elise ejected it.
“My train’s in an hour, you want to find something to eat?”
“Patrick might come along too... I mentioned it to him. I hope that’s ok?”
Elsa betrayed a wounded surprise.18
“I know he really wants to talk to you about some projects here. With Sara moving on and things.”
“Oh no, it’s fine really. I like Patrick.”
“I like Patrick too.”
Patrick suggested a vegan place near the station and they walked there quickly. Elsa often only realised how hungry she was when actively nearing food. She’d eaten little on her break and had been too nervous to consider eating more. There were generally communal bags of chocolates or crisps hidden in the stock room that staff would dip surreptitiously into throughout the day. Patrick and Elsa hardly knew each other well but she knew Corey held him in high regard and they’d worked closely on several small projects before. He smoked as they walked. He had a nervous kind of energy that seemed tonight fueled by Elise’s imminent departure. Possibly to calm tensions during the meal she insisted on putting her number into his phone on the pretense that she might need to return to capture more film. They sat along a bench which faced the street window and watched the evening commuters hurrying past.
“What was the filming for?”
“It’s just documentation really. The whole thing is about the physical reality of the materials, but I find it useful to document the hanging, with these different walkthroughs.”
“The footage I saw earlier looked...”
Patrick paused as he selected a word that felt both truthful and witty,
“Ok, so they end up attracting words like poetic or whatever, but that’s more to do with the experience of being in the thing in reality. The films are an approximation of that. Very flat, which is why I end up running or pushing the lens up against the fabric, shifting the focus manually between defined fibers and the distant convergence of walls of material. And the thing is, this formation of materials and experience is what I do, at the moment, and as much as the design is responding to the space, it gives future employers-”
Patrick breaks in.
“Yes, essentially. That’s the unifying term for all these collaborators. Curators, directors, coordinators, archivists etc. Not that I am that in demand. But just to clarify an important part of the relationship here. And these films provide evidence of a product. Which ok, sounds very cheap and tiresome... but can also be used by us, as artists, to develop our practices and make better art.”
Their food had arrived, two plates of filled tortilla wraps and a bowl with guacamole and refried beans.19
“And the other part of that, of formalising the relationships, is admitting the responsibility held by the artist, in creating sound work.”
“Like, ethically, morally etc?”
“But at Projector I don’t think we would have invited someone to work with us in the first place if there were any doubts over the, errm, politics.”
“Well sure, because it’s mostly about taste.”
“Right Elsa, like we said before... we’re essentially homogenising with all the other similar post-art-school-artist-led-spaces in dealing with contemporary living, as experienced with the omniscience of the internet.”
“It makes me quite sad that a lot of this talk is reduced to post-internet, or it’s kind of assumed that its banal, plateaued at normal...”
“I don’t understand it. I don’t feel comfortable with my use of it. I don’t have the language or knowledge to describe the kind of transfers of information that are underway.”
“But as consumers, we get it, we expect it.”
“Films, music, TV -entertainment.”
“You remember the early days were music. All the early P2P networks. Music and software. That’s why we’re all so proficient with Creative Suite.”
“It’s all HD.”
“You know Apollo 11 landed on the moon, with less computing power than a washing machine.”
“So how about Apollo One?”
“Ok, we expect it, we dwell in it, but I think we’re drowning -we’re sleepwalking. I’m excited by it still, that’s what I’m saying, and I think it’s something we need to hold on to if we’re going to figure it out in a way that is truly beneficial for society as a whole, which by now means globally, for sure, it’s not enough if we all have these devices in our schools and they allow greater learning whilst there are people the other side of the world building them in city-sized factories on wages so low they could never buy this technology themselves, and there’s suicides, depression and also now, they’re becoming blind from the chemicals used to seal the screens, ok, the screens that we then stroke in a mundane pleasure/power, distanced way.”
Patrick took several bites from his wrap and chewed. Outside the evening was still sunny, but a light rain had started to fall as clouds moved westerly, chasing the sinking sun.
“So, I mean I’m excited about that, because otherwise -if you treat it as normal, it’s difficult to see what’s wrong.”
Elsa looked around the café, it wasn’t hard to notice the folk with their necks craned absently down at smartphones.
“It’s all relational right. And we’re capable of maintaining, 100 friendships, like real-world meaningful friendships, max. Yet we are generally far exceeding that in online networks which, ok, they’re not really meant to be the same kind of friends, but the quality of connection possible is limited. And when we are having to consider these issues in relation to these networks, the implicated millions of individual people, in vastly different spaces, it’s incredibly difficult.”
Elsa thought about Corey, who was probably the person she could imagine most definitely in her mind as a resolved physical body. The feel of each inch of skin -the pale peach spots under the corner of each eye, a constellation of moles above his hip, the way hair on his legs stopped at a precise point around his ankle. Even at their level of intimacy though Corey’s interior world was unimaginable. She could imagine the way he might vocalise specific thoughts or reactions, but to actually exist there was something else. She realised that Corey was trapped in her image of his physical body in a way other people weren’t. They had skinless gaps under the clothes they always wore, or the fuzziness of features, through which they might spread and disperse into her collective conception of beings.
“I guess, working in very specific ways, within a set scene, is a way of talking about certain things more easily, assuming other things, other agreements, and also conveniently ignoring others.”
“Maybe that’s why, as artists, everybody is always moving to the next medium. Like we quickly exhaust the media and they become too saturated with potential interpretation.”
“I think we need more public art. More good public art, to the point where it’s possible to talk to a stranger in front of the thing, and talk about life, love, etc.”
“I think you want everybody to be philosophers Patrick.”
“So did Plato.”
“But then the work itself wouldn’t be needed. Like Duchamp-”
Patrick makes a reverent sign of the cross, Elsa laughs, Elise continues,
“exactly, like he changed everything man. The whole ball game. Elsa, I meant to ask you, you’re stages designed as tennis courts, the element of sport within the scene seems to really transform your work. The obvious rule based system. It makes it very tangible.”
“Oh those... it’s related to the development of stage design in 16th c. France, as these indoor theatre’s were being built by converting indoor tennis courts. It seemed a very direct image to me. In fact I’m not sure it’s even true.”
“Is it just because you can imagine all these, marquis, marquise in tights, playing a set of tennis and then deciding to perform a play... is that how it worked? Oblivious to their imminent demise.”
“Have you read the Marquis de Sade?”
“He built a theatre you know, in his castle. Apparently.”
“But anyway philosophy by proxy is not the only reason for doing all this. It’s about moments themselves and being a body in reality, in time.”
“It’s not a moment before life, or separate from it, it’s part of it.”
“And I think it’s ok to reiterate these basic, or foundation/structural ideas about what art is, in order to maintain, an excitement, as you said Patrick.”
“Would you like a coffee, Elsa, Elise?”
They both nod and he disappears towards the counter, taking the empty plates with him.20
Elise says as if only just noticing and they both watch the street for a moment.
“So you live here. This is your neighbourhood?”
“It’s nice. I like it here. Projector’s a good space. It feels like you could do a lot with this city. There’s a good community.”
“It’s nice to hear that. So often it feels like we’re alone and too few.”
“You should visit me some time.”
At this moment Patrick reappears with coffee in takeout cups.
“So where’s Corey this evening?”
“He’s taking a class at Park College, programming.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“Yeah it’s meant to make him employable or something.”
“I guess I’m still looking for love.”
Patrick looks up from the cigarette he’s rolling on the counter.
He says brightly before going back to his tobacco. And as an afterthought in the silence,
“past loves borne, in memory can dance.”
Elsa sips her coffee. Elise checks the time on her phone.21
“I’ll have to go to catch my train.”
“I’ll walk you.”
Patrick says eagerly.
“It was good to meet you Elsa.”
She says, standing. Pulling on her coat.
“Likewise. Good luck with the editing.”
“Thanks. We’ll talk again soon.”
“Elsa, I had meant to ask you about Projector.”
They’re walking towards the door now. The rain is still fairly light. Elsa has a hood pulled up. Elise had a small umbrella that she seemed to be deciding whether or not to open. Patrick continued, inspecting his cigarette as he spoke,
“well, with Sara leaving, its really left us quite open. Quite fragile. But it really would be great to work more with you. Both in terms of discussing the future programming of external artists, and building those relationships,”
here he signaled to both Elsa and Elise who were either side of him with his thumbs, like an eager hitchhiker,
“and also developing a project including your own, personal work at some point. I mean, it’s you, Elsa, you’re the name that keeps coming up.”
“It would be... good.”
She’s slightly embarrassed and begins to open the door. Elise pulls her in to a warm embrace. Patrick then does the same. They walk in silence in the light rain. Elise opting for the umbrella and Patrick huddled close borrowing the shelter with his cigarette held in the inwardly in the shell of his hand. Each with one hand holding their paper cups. They say goodbye again at a crossing and walk their separate ways.22
Elsa looks up from the pile of cotton tees she’s folding. She recognises Sara walking towards her from the front of the store. The tees are spread across a table near the back of the store, on the quarter section of carpet that reaches from the changing rooms a couple of metres into the shop floor.
Sara says again, still walking. A bag hangs from one shoulder and she’s wearing an unbuttoned beige mac. It’s all slightly more formal than Elsa’s used to seeing her, although it seems to fit with her recent professional developments. Elsa finishes the fold and without looking places it square on the pile.
“How are things?”
“Good, good. You?”
“Okay. Great. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there the other day.”
“What, with Elise?”
“Yes, Patrick told me it went well though. I’m a little bit jealous, I think he loves her.”
The shop isn’t busy. Two assistants are talking at the counter, another is unpacking items in the store room, and besides Sara, there are a couple of men and a woman browsing, who’ll each maybe buy something, but there’s no scope for any real sales. Sara continues, pulling the sleeve of a top hanging on a rail, absently,
“but I actually came in, because I need, well need’s a strong word... I feel it would be appropriate to dress a bit more, White Cube. For this intern position, it’s like a real job I guess.”
“Yeah, of course. I can help you pick something out.”
“Thanks, I’d really appreciate, my heads a bit all over the place right now.”
“Yeah, I can imagine it’s a lot to think about, to prepare...”
“So much. Although they’re all being super nice about it all. I’m really excited. I can come back you know, if I’m like interrupting or something.”
“No, of course not. This is my job. Talking to customers. It’s about hospitality, warmth and empathy. Official head office directives.”
“Wow, trade secrets. But seriously, I mean if this is encroaching on some kind of work/life divide...”
“No, its not that bad. I like to think I have some life within the institutional framework of the shop too.”
Elsa has been folding continuously, and has now formed several neat piles. She places her palms flat on the central stack and pushes down forming a dimple in the neat surface. Sara watches the hands, fascinated.
“You have beautiful hands Elsa.”
“Thank you. In another life I was a hand model. So, intern chic. Let’s see.”
Elsa leads Sara around several different sections of the shop floor, indicating possible combinations and picking out a few items for her to try, which she carries deftly over one arm. She enjoys this dynamic, in which she is the expert, the holder of particular information, able to offer advice and guidance to her friend. Sara seems captivated by the performance and nods approvingly at the items Elsa places over her arm. Elsa hangs the items after she’s accrued several variations of complete outfits, in one of the fitting rooms, closing the curtain behind Sara. There are no other customers in the shop now and the three assistants are gathered at the front. They wave collectively at Elsa and she waits a beat before doing the still persisting sidestep two-step, which makes them all laugh. She allows herself to sit down on the sofa that stretches before the fitting rooms. She pretends to adjust the clasp on her shoe.23
“How’s it going Sara?”
“You’re really good at this Elsa. It’s nice. Hold on.”
After a moment Sara appears. She’s wearing the dress, which is the most expensive option and easily the most desirable.
“It’s beautiful. You look great Sara.”
She moves quickly to a shelf of shoes and guesses Sara’s size, selecting a pair.
“Here, try with these.”
Sara slips into the shoes and walks towards the large mirror that leans against the wall on the shop floor. Elsa looks over Sara’s shoulder at her reflection.
“You don’t think it’s too much?”
“No, its good. Its flexible too. I’ve worn it with the Karla jumper, before. When I’m feeling louche.”
They are quiet for a moment. Sara smooths a wrinkle over her hip.
Their eyes meet in the mirror. Sara looks suddenly sad and on the verge of tears.24
“It’s not as if it’s even hard, to jump-perspective. Like infra-thin -right.”
Elsa puts a hand on her shoulder. Sara takes her hand in her own and turns to her.
“It’s my grandma, that’s all. She died.”
“But I think I’m just so used to looking up these things on the internet. Those videos of kids with cancer. Like fighting it. Showing us that life’s worth living. In a really obvious way. Very definite. It’s routine and othered.”
“Well, I don’t know. I’m going to be in London for the funeral. It’s...”
“No it’s not as if I’m really upset by it. She died in her sleep, peacefully. Suddenly. I had seen her a few days before. She was excited about my internship. And that’s it, I mean, I feel like I’m doing it for her now. There’s this whole, ghostly aspect to the thing now.”
Sara lets Elsa’s hand fall and returns to the fitting room. She continues talking through the closed curtain.
“We weren’t really that close. I guess I feel scared that I’m only now realising I didn’t really know her. Ok, for instance, we’ve seen her will, she was very organised, very together, and so it stipulates that I receive any tour tickets she has booked.”
Sara sticks her head around the curtain. Elsa is leaning against the shelf of shoes.
“Like coach tours Elsa. She loved them. And I’m her only communicative grandchild. I have cousins, but they’re estranged or something. Anyway, I have these tickets. I don’t know what to do. I can’t use them. I have to do my thing.”
Sara disappears again. She pulls open the curtain a moment later, dressed again in her own clothes.
“I’ll take the dress, maybe come back for the...”
“Karla jumper. And I’ll take those shoes. I love them.”
Elsa takes the requested items from Sara and they begin walking to the counter.25
“I always imagined there was some kind of age limit on those coach tours. Oh well.”
Elsa scans the items through the till.
“And you’re ok, Sara?”
The other assistants listen to the conversation from the other end of the counter, interjecting out of habit,
“Oh, I love that dress.”
“It looked great on you.”
They say admiringly.
“Thanks. Yes, I’m fine. I think she believed in heaven and stuff, so there’s that.”
She takes a card from her purse and puts it in the reader. The tickets are evidently in the purse and she removes them as Elsa finishes folding and wrapping the dress and one of the other assistants boxes the shoes and places them in a paper bag.
“You know, Elsa, you have them.”
“Sure, why not. You could use them right? France. Go see France.”
“Sara, I couldn’t...”
“You’ll work it out. Or pass them on. I don’t really like keepsakes. I’d rather they were used. I think she imagined it might be educational. She had a lot of ideas for me. Visions I couldn’t fulfill etc.”
Sara slides the tickets across the counter.26
Sara takes the bag.
“I’ll see you. Thanks for the advice. Give me a call if you visit Jess. Keep an eye on Patrick too. Ta-ta!”
She leaves cheerfully with a wave.
Elsa raises her eyebrows at the other assistants.
Outside it was raining. Corey had allowed himself several days recently of not leaving the apartment, on the premise that he was spending more time scouring the internet for jobs. It was a depressing situation which he didn’t feel he could really admit to Elsa. He had felt like clearing his head and so went to his favored shop and ordered coffee. It was already raining when he left the apartment. All he could remember noting recently were pale expressionless face that were always out of focus, and had a nervous blurred quality. Sat in front of his laptop he plugged in a pair of headphones and listened to an internet radio station, to replace the comfortable coffee shop CD he’d heard countless times before. He opened a second window and loaded a page that played continuous rain and storm sounds. The actuality of doing this made him slightly nauseous. The contrived efforts he was making to assume the role he wanted. He wanted to be a body, at peace with its desire, conscious of its affect. Although these thoughts were only glimpsed. He couldn’t focus on the idea of himself. He was distracted between many different ideas of himself that wouldn’t hold, as if they didn’t quite fit. He was under the impression that this was a feeling particular to himself and one he could only approximate to other people. The thought of communicating this empty dread was not something he liked to entertain. After a while he was able to drift into the state of focus that he had gone there to achieve. The ideas of the work he was writing about existed with more clarity than the coffee mugs, other customers and baristas. He could relate to them, and upon questioning, they would yield answers. They moved within their own plane of logic. The rain fell outside, visible white beams, that hit the windows and rolled down in magnifying globules. Corey couldn’t hear this action but it was impossible for these not to form a relation to the sounds of rain from his computer. He felt somewhere between these two objects.
He was beginning to imagine that the project in Sweden might be the last arrangement of this sort that he made. He would normally have been attempting to apply for different opportunities or courting different spaces. It had always seemed important to have things follow one another immediately or else overlap. This was important financially, and also in terms of fueling some emerging trajectory. He wondered if it had been that unidentified arm that had provoked an otherness within the practice. These were only assumptions he was beginning to form. Corey could not really imagine that things would continue any differently to how they had the previous few years. Minor events. Minor resolves. His document for the Swedish space was currently about twenty double-spaced pages of text with inset images and diagrams, and a sprawling bibliography. He had yet to give the movements a title. As he worked he would occasionally read previous paragraphs. He was surprised by the confidence of the voice on the page, as if the work operated completely free from him, in spite of him. He had drafted an email to the space asking if the owner of the arm would like to edit the text with him. This felt like a kind of reckless action, but he was hopeful that it might help resolve the piece. He was under the impression that the deadline was nearing if this text was to exist as printed matter within the space.27
Elsa stood waiting for the traffic lights to change. The roads were busy with all the early evening commuters. She would often look at the world as if it were one of her drawings, or as if it appeared, how she would draw it as a stage. She recognised the dramatic possibilities presented by the space. The areas in which actors would meet, and the spaces by which they would enter and exit the stage. These thoughts were engaged actively as research, and a form of drawing, as she traced the vertical lines of the buildings for instance, examining the relationship between these vectors and others. She found a slight sense of relief in the elements which she realised she would change and aspects she might highlight, by a specific lighting rig, such as now when the east spine of the building, a tall office block, across the road, was almost the exact same shade of grey, throughout its whole height, that she might fill the western edges, which were a peachy marl, with spots of neon blues and purple. The lights changed and she moved across the road into the plane of stage she had just been imagining. The reality of it was overwhelming. The scale of the buildings. The constantly shifting light that washed over the concrete. The movement of things. She exited stage left. She never thought specifically about the dialogue or actors who might be present on these incidental stages. She imagined only the directions that might be given, or the tape markers that might be placed on the floor. Nearing home she looked forwards to seeing Corey. She realised that he had barely been in her thoughts all day. He was something she returned to. She wondered what he had been doing with his day and whether he had applied for any jobs, or how his work was going. These felt both polite and detached in a way that irked her, and comfortable and familiar in a way that she felt secure.
Several slightly confused emails were exchanged in response to Corey’s suggestion of a collaborative editing process. Evidently someone was keen to provide a translation of the text, which was important to them in terms of fulfilling their funding criteria. The allocation of a translator had overtaken the original inquiry and suggestion of arm owner involvement. From the differing names throughout the various emails Corey was beginning to believe that the arm was that of an intern, either Hilda or Elias. These two possibilities fitted nicely in Corey’s mind to the previous allocation of Intern A and Intern B in his diagrams. He didn’t attempt to confirm his suspicions. The discussion of the translator had its own nice subtexts and also seemed to escape any discussion of what his text was actually composed.
Patrick had spotted Corey sat alone in the library. Corey had been aware of Patrick entering the stacks almost an hour ago but had been unsure whether to make himself known. Patrick had quickly disappeared though and Corey returned to his writing. He had three books open on the table. Two were displaying diagrams for different techniques in joinery, and the other was an environmental text about the different species of trees populating northern Europe. This was the kind of tangential research that Corey would use to expose certain links, ideas, feelings even, that made sense within the particular context. It was soft noise that helped articulate the movements. These books were laid open at the same pages as they had been most of the morning. Patrick was empty handed. He sat down across from Corey and span one of the books around to study the diagram.
“It’s getting there.”
“I don’t know how you can work here.”
“It takes a certain saturation of coffee shops.”
“You should think about a studio man. It’d be great.”
“It’s a compliment though, seriously, I think we could all benefit from having you around. You have a very particular set of concerns.”
“Thanks. I would, seriously... I’m just stretched right now.”
“How’s night school?”
“Well I can navigate my way around the code ok. I just seem to lack the necessary impulses to translate that into a process of monetization. Maybe I’ll see it soon.”
“Well that’s all wrong. The problem comes first, then the solution. At least for us, citizens. Of course, up there-”
“thankyou, The Man, he can do what he likes, he can create problems for solutions and provide solutions that don’t solve. But then he’s our problem and sooner or later we’ll solve him. We have to. I mean, we physically have to. No choice about it.”
“The stacks not providing solutions today?”
The change in subject makes Patrick jolt a little as if he takes a moment to remember where he is. He spins the book back around to Corey.
“You know they call chimney’s stacks, in America. Its use here is also a little like the computer data term. Except here, in the library you’d imagine them more horizontal, possibly... And then chimney, well that’s just Dick Van Dyke bounding over rooftops... but no, not directly.”
“What were you after?”
“I was trying to be open. Let the book find me. And instead I found you.”
“You found me.”
“How about a coffee? On me. It’s a little like destiny right? Or fate?”
Corey closed the books and left Patrick at the table whilst returning them quickly to the shelves.28
“You really like it here?”
“There’s a nice order to the place. That’s reassuring.”
Corey saved his work and returned the laptop to his bag, along with his journal and pens. They left together, edging past the queue gathered at the alarmed barrier waiting to get their books stamped.
The weather was nice enough so they got coffee to go from the nearest café and found a bench on the large square near the library.
“I’m struggling a little to be honest.”
Patrick said placing the coffee aside and lighting a cigarette rolled earlier. Corey had just asked about Projector. Sara had relocated and Patrick was essentially in charge.
“I haven’t really thought about making art for weeks now. Today was like a first attempt at reconnection. Opening a dialogue.”
“You still talk as if you’re making.”
“Probably just a habit. Running a space is so much more about organisation and networking than I’d really appreciated before. I feel a lot of responsibility for it all now.”
“You’re adapting. You’ll get the balance.”
“But that’s not the whole situation. You see, I’m not even sure I want to make art any more -and yet it’s the only environment I can ever imagine living in...”
Patrick smokes and Corey drinks. They both study the fountain in the centre of the square. Its stone is carved in flourishes that could be waves of water or plant life. Any direct depiction is lost. There are traces of figures too that seem mostly eroded by the incessantly spilling water. Corey remembers that the fountain is often empty for half the year as the water can freeze in the pipes. The empty base always appears like a dangerous hard surface.
“It’s like the Greek muses, they were a kind of deity of inspiration, that visited at its own choosing. You see it didn’t particularly matter if you’d done something great -or under any inspiration regardless of outcome, it was this ghostly thing moving within you.”
“Exactly, it’s alleviating. There’s no second album. Even Plato used it as an excuse.”
The water from the fountain drifted out from the base as it fell by the slightest breeze.29
“And so I go to the studio and I sit there, thinking. Occasionally, and I wait for the muse to arrive. I think it’s beyond that now, in fact. I think I sit there and don’t expect a muse to save me, and knowing it to be pointless I do nothing.”
“Do you remember ever doing anything inspired? I don’t mean to say that I don’t believe you have. I’m just curious.”
“Yes, repeatedly. But of course I feel much less responsible for it now. I don’t mean, actually gods, but just the inevitable product of my environment. The willing participant. And this nothingness. It’s also something like an abstinence and refusal to produce. I’m seduced by notions of eastern spirituality. I feel like a venn diagram slipping apart. One circle is Projector. That circle is growing. The other is my personal practice, or excursions of discovery, and that is empty and slipping out of orbit of the Projector circle.”
“I am trapped in my rooms. Thoughtful movements and alterations permeate the space.”
“I don’t believe I ever had a muse... you know as in the image of the artist obsessively drawing their lover.”
“It could be less than that. It could be that you make things, you create, explore, practice, -whatever, for the sake of someone, or something. Not out of desire to have them love you, or accept your love, but out of celebration and respect of a way of living or state of being...”
“I’m not that selfless I guess. Like I say, I’m open and receptive... but I’m not really reaching out.”
Corey doesn’t speak for a while. His thoughts have turned to Elsa. She is his companion. She walks in front of him. He traces the shape of her shoulder and neck, the smooth exponential.
Corey exited the bus with his single rucksack.
“Au revoir, monsieur.”
The driver nodded and eased the bus into gear. It pulled away on the dusty road leading out of the small village. Corey looked around. A couple of people had left the bus before him, but they were already gone. He was in a square; fruit trees, old and gnarled growing throughout, such that it was almost an orchard, save for the paved paths and benches, stone fountain and along one side, where there were no trees and a large rectangle of well-kept gravel for pétanque. The square was flanked by houses, several bars and stores. Corey went between the shops, buying several loaves of bread and wine. Part of him hadn’t really expected the village to exist. He checked his phone, which had signal no internet. The sun cast dappled light on the square. He had reached Paris several days before. He was supposed to catch a connecting flight from Paris to Sweden. He was going to finish the work there. The diversion to Paris was to meet the translator of the text. This was all to be paid for by the space in addition to the artist fee they had previously agreed. Something had gone wrong in Paris. Corey sat at a table on the street next to the bar and ordered coffee. He watched some men playing dominoes nearby. Corey had been making notes in sporadic moments on the bus journey. He looked back at the scribbles before turning to a new page. He wrote the date in the top left corner and closed the journal. He tried to calculate the money left in his wallet and the different costs of returning to Paris, home, or first continuing south. He didn’t intend to do either immediately. He had waited two days in Paris without meeting the translator. He was a student at one of the colleges and Corey had gone so far as to make enquiries around the campus to where he might be. He hadn’t replied to emails and none of his contacts in Sweden had been able to help. Corey had spent time walking around the city, between the landmarks and galleries. It was on the second evening that Corey had remembered the place David had told him about. A place where he had stayed once. Corey could recall the village name and the location of the house. Corey had emailed the space and told them he would leave Paris, to return in a week, meet the translator and then fly to Sweden. The show itself was still more than a month away, and print deadlines could be pushed.
The failure to meet the translator was attached to his feelings of disappointment as to how things had ended with Elsa. They had broken up. He believed that he had finally forced her to pity him and this had been the limit. She had left the next day at some point when he was out. There was a note saying that if he needed to contact her he should find Sara’s grandmother. Corey had called Sara, who explained about the tickets. Corey had tried to sound nonchalant on the phone but had still hung up feeling humiliated. He felt like the missing translator was a divine sign that he should travel south, towards Elsa. The only reason he could find to go however, was to see the man David had spoken about. He ordered a second coffee. A couple of kids played under the trees. The village had the feeling of a place without many children. The population was mostly old and widowed. He wondered for a moment if David’s friend even existed, or if he was, like the translator, missing, in which case he would have to decide whether to continue south or return. The thought of actually catching a flight from Paris to Sweden seemed like something he’d never do. It was a fiction he was going to break. He tried to register the last few days as a face. Instead the disembodied hand waved at him as if from a brighter future. It was reassuring.
Corey was aware that he had enjoyed the last few days immensely. His routine was much the same as it always was, alone between places, watching, drinking coffee and writing. But now he was attached to some greater machine. He was being moved by international forces. He was resisting this movement, too, constructing a return to Elsa. These were all subtle notions sensed in the contemplation of light over the square and taste of the coffee -which was thick with grounds, made arabic style. He found it difficult to think clearly about Elsa and yet she was never far from his thoughts. She had been for so long, his portal to other people, a vessel by which he could understand the world. Corey remembered suddenly the conversation he’d had in Paris with a man he’d at first mistaken for the translator. He was a Belgian who was meeting someone as well but he was early.
“I have much thinking to do, so I arrive, and I think.”
He had seemed happy to share these thoughts with Corey or rather, develop them through dialog.31
“Do you see this?”
He extended his empty hands over the table. The cuffs of his linen jacket pulled up his arms.
“I have nothing with me today. A few coins in my pocket.”
“I have everything in this bag.”
“I have everything too.”
“May I tell you something about the thoughts that have occupied me so far this morning? Left my appartement, walked through the streets, the park, and settled here, avec moi. And you, now of course.”
“I imagine they are like birds, flocks of birds -thoughts... moving with the same mathematical precision. Settling, then alighting.”
“And we are the trees, the telephone wires, the rooftops...”
“Well, we are each tree, individual, receptive, supporting, and bird -part of the flock, the swarm, moving, driven, carried, reactive, constructive, destructive.”
At this point he had paused to order two beers from the waiter who had been standing nearby since Corey had first sat down. The tables spilled from a covered bar into the wide path of the park. The path stretched along a grand avenue, with neglected sculptures of nudes at regular distances between the trees. Thinking about it later, Corey could not understand why he had mistaken this man for the translator, other than recognising the fact that he was waiting for someone. He could not say what age the man was either. The beer arrived and he handed the waiter several coins,
“see, almost all gone now,”
he said to Corey. He lifted his glass in a toast and waited for Corey to follow.
They clinked glasses and drank.32
“That is the word that has been so nebulous to me this morning. And I shall relate it partially, to a fellow bird, in the language of the flock, now.”
Corey savoured the taste of the cool beer, which was refreshing under the Parisian sun.
“Desire, I’ve noticed is most keenly present to us after it has been quashed. In failure. Desire is an act of imagination relating to a future moment of action. This imagination of this action is related to the self, and while under the spell of desire, any moment, any concept of future, past this point, will involve a self inclusive of the desired moment. Comprends?”
“Now, as this desired moment approaches, say, if something is to happen, to the possibility of this moment. It éludes the terrain. It is also a removal of the perceived self. There is a rupture between your reality and projection. Your entire future has to be remade, do you see? The man has vanished. However trivial the objet-trouvé, it is the condition of desire to require a moment of becoming,”
“Yes, a chrysalis maybe... and there we either survive or we don’t...”
He looks around as if searching for his friend.
“Of course, it is not always so sudden. It can fade, future selfs adjusted incrementally, until the un-alignment is barely noticed.”
“But it still exists?”
“Sure it does. And this is what I was really trying to perceive, personally, the distance I sit here, now, with my own projection of now, from all the previously desired states of being. I don’t believe it’s a useful measure of a life, but certainly a ghost on our psyche, a large net we carry around us like little ocean trawlers in the fog. These ghosts, tug on the now. They require exorcism. Unless of course, they don’t and they are instead like anchors tethering us to existence.”
They spoke a little more as they finished their beers. Corey left before the man’s friend arrived.
Corey left some change on the table next to his empty cup and pulled his bag over his shoulders. He picked up the bag of wine and bread and left the square following the road the bus had taken. The village was built mostly on the foothills of a small mountain. It was clustered around the relative plateau of the square. The road Corey followed dropped into the valley, which was filled by fields and other individual buildings and farmhouses. On the other side of the valley the lower slopes were steeper and the fields fell in patches. Corey spotted the track he had imagined from David’s descriptions. It snaked up from the main road in a series of twists that presumably made it just possible to drive a vehicle up it. There was an old dusty car at the bottom of the track. The interior leather all cracked and faded from exposure. This car was green beneath the dust, and another part of David’s description. The house had been visible as he walked down from the village, but was now shielded by the outcrops of the rising slope. He began to ascend the track. As the house wound back in to view Corey could see the scale of the place more clearly. It was an old stone farmhouse like all the others, with enough room for a large family. As far as Corey knew David’s friend lived alone, and the excess rooms housed travellers like Corey passing through and working the land. He found himself imagining the last time a child grew up in the house. There were three floors to the building, with the ground at the front meeting the first and a sweeping gravel area that reached up to the first floor at the rear of the house. The building appeared dug into the side of the hill. Beyond the building Corey could see orchards and the edges of several outbuildings. These appeared more ramshackle in construction. Corey heard footsteps behind him. He turned to see an old man with one of those golden tans, sinewy legs and arms with a slight pot belly beneath a loose faded tshirt. He was pushing a bike, with a bag of groceries slung over the handlebars. He took off his cap and wiped his forehead. He had shoulder length white and grey hair that was pushed back over his ears.
he announced, with a warm Californian accent.33
“Hi, I’m Corey. I’m a friend of David’s.”
The man rested with arms folded over the bikes handlebars. He peered at Corey, and flashed a set of bright white teeth.
“I’ve known many David’s, Corey. But only one as singularly excellent a companion as your David. It’s a pleasure to meet you Corey, friend of David. I’m Cal.”
He extended a hand, and Corey stepped forwards to shake it.
“I hope you don’t mind the surprise.”
“Not at all. There are many who pass through. Mostly carrying some sadness, like yourself. But this is a place of balance and harmony. Come on, I’ll show you around.”
They walked together the rest of the track. Cal seemed to fall quiet, thinking of other things. Corey thought of nothing and fell simply into the moment and the knowledge that he had set in motion a course of events that he was comfortably submissive to. It had felt good to hear Cal use the words sadness and harmony. There was a sense that he had achieved something real.
Cal had accepted Corey’s bread and wine with thanks. It was a small transaction that somehow formalized the terms of Corey’s residency. He could stay there, take shelter, and in return he would help Cal manage the land. Outside of these responsibilities Corey’s time was his own.
“Never could get the hang of wine. Leave it to the locals now...”
They left the kitchen and Cal showed Corey to a room where he could sleep. It was a simple space of the top floor with two single beds and a third above on a mezzanine. There were two windows in the room which faced out over the valley.34
“Nobody else here right now. You’re a bit early I suppose. Most people make home here, and spend occasional nights in the yurt. It’s good for the mind. There’s a bathroom too, across the hall. I’ll let you get settled and we can take a walk in an hour or so. You want something to eat? I’ll make some lunch.”
Cal left the room. Corey dropped his bag onto one of the beds. He thought about taking a shower. He sat down however, and found he couldn’t rise. Instead he cast a look at the village across the valley and lay back across the width of the bed. He slept.
Corey woke up, and was aware of the displaced sun. The sky across the valley was edged with grey clouds. He checked the time on his phone to find it the middle of the afternoon. He’d slept for several hours. He was embarrassed, remembering Cal’s lunch and hurried downstairs to the kitchen area. There was a board with cheese, bread and pickles, and a carafe of wine. There was a note too. It read,
“don’t worry. Eat this. Follow the path through the orchards and up the mountain. You’ll find me.”
Corey felt his hunger suddenly and devoured the meal, washing it down with the wine only after the board was empty.
He rinsed the board and glass at the sink and left them on the side. The kitchen was on the lowest floor and to leave through the back of the house Corey climbed back up to the first floor. The door was unlocked and he left it so. He recognised the path he’d seen previously only from the distance of the track. He couldn’t tell what fruit the trees would harbour and for now there were only a few small green pods on one or two branches. He noticed now the basic irrigation system that worked it’s way around the trees in tiny trenches that interrupted the green grass that grew from the well fed earth. It was connected to a small water container further up the slope. At the end of the orchard the path turned more sharply upwards and widened to a trail that was well used and supported in places by carefully laid stones. Corey could see more of the scattered buildings now that marked Cal’s domain. The yurt which sat a little way from the path where Corey now was, occupying a kind of plateau. The other buildings too all seemed to occupy -and fill, these natural areas of relative flatness. There were less trees now, and the hillside felt more exposed. Corey began to wonder how far ahead Cal might be. He assumed the path would begin to fork before long, to encompass the scale of the mountain. It seemed to follow a trajectory up what he believed to be the most northerly face, eventually reaching the spine where it tipped to north-westerly. He noticed Cal a short way ahead. He had managed to walk fairly close as Cal was stood away from the path. He was beneath one of several trees that were the same dust brown colour of most of the vegetation this high up but with clear healthy green leaves. Cal knocked at the branches with a long stick. Seemingly satisfied he lowered the stick and leaned it against the tree. Corey noticed a couple of goats also moving through the area of trees. They wore small bells that clanged as they knocked against their shoulders and the thorny thickets. One of them called out noticing Corey. Cal looked up now and saw Corey too.
“Just checking on the almonds. They remind me of home. A home, I mean. The land I came from.”
He sat down on a rock and motioned for Corey to join him. The goats moved on past the trees and the two men watched them as they began to pick their way further up the track.35
“Thanks for the food Cal.”
“It’s no problem. You come far?”
“That’s not too far, but I suppose the distance is never the real problem. These, almonds, they won’t be ready for another few months... the other fruit too. But the vegetables, they always need tending. Potatoes in a couple of days.”
“I only saw the orchard. Apples?”
“Plums. Mostly. There are others scattered over the hillside though, like these almonds, that I don’t worry about tending. They’ve been here forever.”
They were looking out across the valley. The slope dropped gently away from them and Corey could see the upper floor and tiled roof of Cal’s house, nestled between trees. The air felt close and heavy. The mark of man painted crooked bands of colour across the visible flats and slopes. The recognisable lavender in diamonds. Livestock moving like slowly drifting snow. Corey looked at his shoes, which were a pair of old trainers. He thought for a moment of when he’d bought them in the store. He had only really imagined wearing them on the concrete and tarmac pathways of the city or its clipped grass zones. And yet he could feel them already, in the unexpected contact with nature, adapting and sensing a new purpose. He sensed Cal studying him and tried to think of a question. Cal laughed and began speaking again,
“I like to wake early, and tend the land. You can follow me around tomorrow morning. If I’m building anything I’ll spend time on that in the afternoon. Right now I’m between projects. But I’m going to see a fellow in the next arrondissement. I’ve been promising to go for a while. With you here to look after things, now would be a good time. Do you mind?”
Corey was surprised by the offer and hesitated.
“It’s a few days...”
Corey was suddenly aware of the implications of staying with Cal. Committing to even a few days would seem to force an admission of his intentions by making the trip, further disengaging from Sweden and yet stalling his pursuit of Elsa.
“Of course. I’ll look after the place.”
“Great. That’s settled. I’ll leave the day after tomorrow.”
That seemed to indicate the end of their conversation for now and Cal stood up and began walking back to the house alone. There seemed no expectation that Corey would or should follow. He continued sitting alone. The stones were warm from the afternoon sun. He looked up at the old almond trees. The stick Cal had placed against the tree seemed to be an old fallen branch that had been stripped of its twigs and varnished with oil or possibly just from use. Corey thought for a moment about how its placement within the context of the mountainside was fine and if he were to think more about Cal’s domain as a territory of replacement and manoeuvring he might be content with only a documentation of the stick in its current placement and relationship to the other elements. These thoughts kicked up like dust, dispersed. Corey’s practice as an artist, as it would be recognised in any discussion with his peers, was so closely entwined with his processing and response to the world. He was scared of a life without art as the central component because it denied that aspect of being that made the world, and his relationship to it, tangible. Navigable. He tried to recall Elsa’s voice, one of the many times she’d offered words of encouragement and love that he’d never felt entirely comfortable accepting, but now settled him.
A storm had gathered and Corey had started to notice the jagged cuts of lightning further along the valley. He picked himself up from the rock. The goats were nowhere to be seen. He assumed they were on their way to shelter when they’d passed earlier. He studied the darkness that filled the space between ground and cloud, where the lighting already struck.36
“I’m just trying to live peacefully. Being alone, in my own space, allows me to get closer to achieving this on a personal level. I have less encounters to process, relationships to maintain. Less distractions. This is a form of peace...”
Corey was quiet. Cal seemed to be recalling these thoughts as if they’d been decided long ago. They were clearly ideals that moved within him but not at the surface of his everyday existence.
“This is the path I fell to. I am a part of this community.”
He seemed to have returned to the present now, and to be speaking directly to Corey,
“I live and work with these people. I essentially, gave up... I got tired, of the big picture. I turned my back. But in that negation I am trying to resolve the elements of a balanced life.”
He paused, relaxing again, his face wrinkling into a smile,
“but not so grandiose. I apologise. As I said, it’s off-season, I’m not warmed up yet.”
“Do you want to come to the village with me? I’ll introduce you to a friend. In case you need anything whilst I’m away. He’d like to meet you I’m sure.”
They walked together down the track. Cal had brought his bicycle which he guided alongside him. The sound of the freewheeling bike seems to communicate with the crickets in the low grass. They walked slowly and mostly in silence. Cal pointed out several houses as they entered the village and listed the occupants and some fact about them.
They took seats at the same table Corey had found the day before. An old Moroccan man came over from the bar and set several two espressos on the table. He stood for a while speaking with Cal in French. Corey watched the activity in the square. There were some men playing pétanque and the youngest couple Corey had seen in the village, carrying out some kind of maintenance to the trees and pathways of the square. They moved carefully about their work. Other people could be seen entering and leaving the few shops. It was still morning but the smell of cooking meat and tomatoes came moved seemed to spill from the houses. Corey took a sip from the coffee. He noticed a new figure cutting across the square. He stopped near the couple for a moment. He said something and they laughed. He waved and continued towards Corey and Cal. The proprietor noticed him approaching and closed his conversation holding Cal’s hand. He darted back behind the bar to prepare another coffee. Cal pulled out a seat for his friend. The man sat. He was at least as old as Corey but moved with vitality and coiled excitement.37
“Luc. How are you?”
“Bien, bien.” He smiled expectantly at Corey.
“Luc, this is my friend, Corey. Corey, Luc.”
Luc extended a hand across the table.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Corey.”
The man returned with a third coffee. Luc thanked him. Several women sat at a table nearby and the waiter left to greet them.
“So what do you make of our small village Corey?”
“It seems great.”
Corey said, surprised.
“He only arrived yesterday, Luc, he doesn’t know the place yet.”
“I know. I saw you, sat right here, yesterday. I assumed you would be looking for Cal. He’s our tourism officer you see.”
The day before already felt like something distant, and with it, everything past. They were isolated, here in the present.
“Anyway, I’m visiting Jacques. I’ll leave tomorrow. I wanted to make sure Corey knew someone in the village. Just in case.”
They all drank and sat with their thoughts for a while. Luc seemed to be listening to the stories at the next table. Cal was following the game of pétanque. He finished the coffee and wandered across to the game. Corey watched him. Luc watched him too.38
“You think that is a happy man, Corey?”
Corey was silent. It seemed like an instruction.
“California, Cal. He seemed so exotic when he first appeared here. I have barely left the village, Corey. Something about the place has forever held me. Sometimes I wonder if it is truly out there. Only as a passing thought, to be entertained with caution... I suppose.”
Cal and the men watched a ball arc through the air and land with a small bounce.
“Are there people waiting for you Corey?”
“I think so.”
“It’s obvious but, Cal was someone of fair importance, out there for a while. So he get’s it, is what I’m saying.”
“What did he do, before he lived here?”
“Cal was a music producer. He has his own entry on wikipedia.”
Corey was surprised.
“Oh yes, we do have the internet Corey. I set up the wifi. It extends from my house to just past this bar, and I teach people to use it. That’s my use in the village these days. We have a way of making people into tools here...”
Cal was returning from the game. He went to the bar and returned with a half bottle of wine and three small glasses for the men to share.
“I was just telling Corey about your illustrious former career.”
“Well I suppose I’d better explain a few details. Luc has a tendancy to skew. Like how he walks, with that slight lean. A tilt. I think it’s all connected to several episodes from his childhood.”
“Oui, monsieur. But enough, another time.”
“Well Corey, it is quite simple. My parents, were incredibly wealthy, and incredibly distant. This afforded me the chance to explore several passions. I started a record label that was mostly for my friends’ band, and they were good- eventually so good that the label was bought out by one of the majors. We had created a scene, and by that time I wanted out anyway. I moved out here soon after that, for love. I collected art. This was something that people did at the time and as with the label I enjoyed supporting my friends and other young people. Being young was the whole thing I suppose. The woman I fell in love with was an artist. She was beautiful Corey. California had grown to small so we left.”
Cal became distant again as he had on the hillside. Corey looked across at Luc. He was watching his friend closely, enjoying the story.39
“Have you ever played pétanque?”
Corey followed Cal’s gaze.
“Its similar to bowls right? I’ve played that, on the beach...”
“Well look you see that rectangle the men are stood within?”
He traced the distorted corners in the air.
“That’s the terrain. This is the zone within which the game is played, the rules exist -they are followed, broken etc. they are the framework against which everything reacts. Do you see the implications of this?”
Corey studied the players. He thought about his investigations into spaces and the possibility that Cal had been sat here all along thinking the same thoughts.
“Cal’s archives include a book of collected drawings of games. Simple diagrams of various ‘terrains’.”
“It’s somewhere between Sol Lewitt and Robert Smithson.”
“He died in a plane didn’t he.”
They all drank.
“I have always found it so beautiful. In the simple way that human action can be. It’s the beauty of all games, all models... only here, I have never experienced something like it... the terrain is completely at the forefront. The abstractions more direct.”
“The scale is good. The movement from one end to the other. The weight of the ball, especially in contrast to the pick. The limits of the terrain must be respected -it is different to the beach, which is limited of course, but only by time. The sea has not ground the rock to sand, and the sand itself is always shifting. To play on the beach you would need boulders.”
“And this is why we don’t play on the beach Corey. Our pier’s are tiled with terrain.”
Corey had started to tell Cal about his projects and the ideas associated with the work. They walked slowly with the bike between them carrying the supplies. Corey felt good. The wine had warmed him. Soon they fell to silence. Most of the day was spent in this quiet. They communicated with a shared understanding of the importance of games now, which both men seemed to treat with monastic reverence. In the late afternoon Cal led Corey to a secluded copse not far from the track they had previously followed up the hill. The trees here were all young, with slender trunks that were in constant motion in the breeze. Between them were throngs of cannabis. Cal moved carefully between the plants inspecting them.40
“I used to sell the stuff a bit. Give it away. Useful for making friends.”
“But it started to draw too much attention. The wrong crowd. It was awkward. Its never been a problem with the Gendarmerie. Just a lot of folk landing here, assuming I’m into things I’m not. I’m getting old Corey. So anyway, the crop is off-limits to guests. It’s for personal, medicinal use. It’s dried and cured down there...”
He pointed to a small hut just beyond the trees.
“Should be alright until I get back though. I don’t even keep it in the house any more. It’s strange how things change...”
Corey felt one of the spiky leaves. The plantation was positioned at just the right angle to catch the most of the sun. Cal was staring across the valley in his own way again. He looked frail and old. He changed moment to moment and was unknowable. He was suddenly too much for Corey to comprehend. Like a true vision of God. Corey saw then the infinite within life. For a moment. Cal’s frame twisting in the light, young, surf-lean, west coast. The strength of this land, these hills. Time all poured into this vessel. The leaves stroked Corey’s arm tenderly. The intern’s arm. The thunderous sound of the valley. He felt like he was observing with all his senses. Cal was talking. He reached swamp-like towards Corey. Friendly eyes of creation. Everything was stretching, growing, that moment, towards the sun. Cal’s voice, finally,
“Corey, buddy, hey…”
“You back with us?”
“Getting there, sorry. I, er…”
“You should stay here a while Corey, the place suits you. There’s one more thing to show you.”
Cal led Corey back to the house. They entered a room accessed through the kitchen, and Corey realised, buried under the hill a little. There was a large space with all kinds of instruments laying around and carpets spread across the floor. The door they had entered through led to an enclosed mixing booth. There was a fine layer of dust over most of the controls. Cal walked through to the main studio and held a chord on the piano. He listened, checking the reverberation.
“It was necessary in the beginning, this place. I still had my old contacts, and they liked working here. We didn’t just vanish from our previous lives. We just moved.”
Corey woke early. He found Cal already in the kitchen. They went out to water the plants. Corey led the work, with Cal following, reminding him occasionally of a plant he’d forgotten or trench he hadn’t opened. The work didn’t take long, and afterwards they shared breakfast in the kitchen. Cal had already packed a small rucksack for his trip.
“I’ll be taking the car. So the bikes there, if you need it. And of course you can always call on Luc.”
He paused for a moment, pouring them both more coffee.41
“You should visit Luc in fact. He’d like that. I’ll be a few days.”
Corey walked with Cal down the track to the car. Cal checked the oil and water. He rapped the chassis affectionately, a layer of dust shaking free.
“Thank you, Corey.”
Cal sank into the seat and flexed the steering wheel. The thing hadn’t been used in years but started almost instantly. Cal burned away down the rest of the track to the road, with an arm waving from the window. Corey waved back. He wandered slowly up to the house.
He took his journal and wandered further up the hill, writing away the rest of the morning under a skeleton tree. Writing small configurations of objects he could remember from the house.
He made his way slowly back to the house. He lay in the yurt a while. It was pleasantly cool and very quiet. Light became peach as it worked through the fabric at the zenith. He was trying to compare the loneliness of this moment with his customary solitary wanderings in the city. The day passed slowly.
He began cooking as the evening turned to dusk. He heard the sound of the door closing behind him. He turned. There was a woman watching him. He hadn’t heard her enter.42
She said. Corey was silent. The woman walked over to the table and sat on the edge of it. Corey noticed she’d dropped a bag by the door. He turned back to stir the frying vegetables.
“Do you want something to eat?”
He suggested. The woman smiled.
She stood up again, beating Corey to the glasses.43
“It’s ok. I’ve got this.”
She had the same distant west coast accent as Cal.
“It’s wonderful to meet you. Is Cal… the car was gone. Where’s he at?”
“He left this morning, to see a friend.”
Lore poured the wine. Corey spooned the contents of several pans onto his plate.
“Sure you’re not hungry?”
“No. It smells great, though. Don’t mind me, please.”
Corey could feel himself sinking into a strange desire for the woman. Instant and comfortable. She could sense this too, he thought. He decided not to ask anything more, for now, and it seemed she felt the same. He ate, and they drank. Lore left the table to put on a record. She moved through the room almost with a connection to everything. Fingertips tracing a path along the edge of the counter. Unconscious steps. They spoke about the weather. Corey told her about his day. She said she had been an artist once. They finished the wine. Lore put on a new record. They had kissed. Corey began pulling at Lore’s clothes. She stopped him. Led him out to the yurt. There, in the darkness they undressed and fucked loudly in the close warm quiet.
They spent the night there, in the darkness, with hardly a word passing between them.
Corey woke up alone. He dressed and headed up the hill tending to the plants and trees. He caught sight of Lore in the house, through a window. She disappeared. He wondered if she’d been watching him. The morning was air was cool. He finished the watering thinking only about the space in Sweden and a series of appendices he could make to the document.44
“So he just left you here…”
“I suppose. I’ve met Luc, in the village.”
“Oh, Luc. He’s a good friend. Always been here.”
She had a way of looking around the house or the valley beyond and knowing it completely. Seeing what was there before her eyes had settled on it. The same as Cal. She carried the same sadness, and also the same happiness. They walked together up the hill. Lore picked a meandering route that seemed to pass different talismans. A certain tree, or outcrop.
“So what do you do Corey?”
“I move things.”
“I investigate the space and suggest interventions. Sounds ridiculous right?”
“Well, no. How does it feel, out here, away from the city?”
“Strategies emerge. Characters… I feel like one of Elsa’s drawings.”
“These hills are surprisingly full of ghosts. Maybe it’s just the wind, Santa Ana, she followed us. Existence is the same, wherever.”
“A focussed confusion.”
A few minutes pass in silence. The pauses seem natural between them. Elsa is maybe the only person Corey has ever felt conversation like this with before. Although if he thinks about it now, he can only remember the pauses.
“Objects and their place. Our place within and around them. It still exists. But the terrain is less precise. Cal was telling me about terrain…”
“That’s Cal…But, so, it’s Feng shui, right?”
“It’s like Feng shui in the mirror.”
Corey felt Lore against him. There was a kind of urgency in their movement. They barely made a sound. He had retreated further into the room. He glimpsed her then, standing in the doorway, naked like him, and not looking back, but elsewhere, into the house and its objects. Then she saw him looking and smiled, and they were together again.
He had noticed a difference in the shape of his memories from his earlier childhood, to those that had formed much more recently. They were memories freed from the networked memories that living with access to the internet had seemed to develop. It was the feeling that everything had been accelerated, factored up greatly and the idea itself, of being human, radically altered.
Corey had left the house quickly after breakfast. Lore had said she was going in to the village for supplies and he was eager to be alone a while. The house had quickly assumed a familiarity. They had slept together and fucked again on waking. Over coffee and toast Lore said that would be the last time as Cal was due home soon and it seemed unfair. Corey took this to mean that she’d rather be fucking Cal. He said this was fine. Lore had seemed mildly disappointed and left soon after. On leaving the house Corey watered the plants quickly and headed across the face of the hill away from worn path. He climbed gently and soon reached another dirt track. This one seemed to be used by shepherds as there were droppings continuously and snagged on occasional branches were tufts of fur. Looking back Corey could still see the village across the valley. He continued walking and began to notice the variation of trails within the path. There were several types of hoof-print which he assumed were goats, and other smaller animals which tended to follow the path only for a while before leaving again. There was one noticeable trainer which lay a hexagonal web every foot or so. There were also the tyre tracks which indicated a car of some sort. The discovery of the tracks left Corey uneasy as he wasn’t sure whether or not the land was considered private. He thought again about an existence within one of Elsa’s drawings. The thought went nowhere but left her name a quiet echo. He tried to calculate the seriousness of the situation with Sweden. It registered only as a mild anxiousness. A part of him he realised, expected not to return, as if he would just keep moving. A collapsed pile of stones caught his eye. He knelt down, attempting to rebuild the stack. These stacks were like conversations between the people that roamed the hills. Small messages that communicated companionship and invited collaboration. They peppered the hillside. Corey had placed several stones before abandoning the project. Instead he gathered the remaining stones and placed them in a similar pile on the opposite side of the path. The piles were now a gateway, or sentry. The logic had changed. Corey stepped through and continued walking.45
Eventually he came to a clearing in the trees, which opened up to a large reservoir. The water was still and calm. It lapped gently against the concrete perimeter. The track Corey had been following circled the reservoir. Smaller paths broke off into the trees at several points. The side of the reservoir that cut into the slope of the hill was flanked by a sloped concrete wall. The smooth proficiency of the concrete seemed suddenly futuristic and surprising. Corey felt for a moment a longing for the familiar whitewashed walls of the institution. The water appeared to feed into a generator or pump that occupied the lowest corner of the reservoir. It reminded Corey of the wave pools he’d been to as a kid, which had always contained an element of terror. Diving down to the gate that separated the pool from the pumps, stories of kids being trapped there and the dark inaccessibility of that whole body of water. He scanned the tree-line. The fact that he’d stopped walking seemed to be enough to allow certain fears to enter his consciousness. He walked to the edge of the water. The clear surface receded to darkness and he couldn’t gauge the depth. He wondered if Lore had ever found this place. He removed his shoes and dipped a foot into the water. It was warm. He watched the ripples spread out from his toe. He watched them spread and diffuse with all the other small movements that kept the surface in a constant subtle motion. He felt the sudden urge to dive into the water. The urge felt, despite his very present fear of the body of water.
It was contained, and it would contain him. It was a full space.
He removed his clothes quickly and jumped out, into the water. He cut through the water, completely submerged. It was cold. He kicked his legs in a wide frog-legged motion that avoided letting them slip any further into the darkness than necessary. He floated for a moment, feeling the cold penetrate further. It didn’t feel redemptive. In an attempt to remain almost entirely on the surface he began swimming across the width of the reservoir. He rolled onto his back and faced the blue sky. It was easier to relax now. He was able to ignore the depth behind him and concentrate on the strange weightlessness and movement of the water over his body. The way it collected and moved in eddies around his limbs. It began to feel warm again. He listened to the water in his ears, which felt like silence.
Again the door had opened silently. Suddenly there was a second woman in the room. She was about Corey’s age and instantly recognisable as Lore and Cal’s daughter. The two women stared at each other. Animosity flaring for the slightest moment.
“This is my daughter.”
“And you must be her lover?”
Corey looked between the two women.46
She extended a hand towards Corey, moving her body at the same time, such that as he held her hand, she placed a kiss on both his cheeks.
“She has left her scent you know?”
“I’m Corey. Nice to meet you.”
“Ok, I’m going for a walk. I’ll make food later, something to celebrate our convergence. I’m so happy to see you Elisabeth. Please be nice to Corey, he’s a guest of your father’s.”
Lore stared at them both for a moment, before leaving quickly.
“Do you want a drink? Coffee?”
“Are you an artist Corey?”
“I am a designer.”
Corey made coffee.
“It’s really very liberating. I mean, our reference to the gallery, or exhibition space. It’s about documentation, proof-of-concept, you know? The kind of projects I’m involved in, are in the real world. In daily lives? You know, without the distancing or otherness that is often required or deemed appropriate to art. See I’m really doing nothing that you couldn’t do yourself, within the framework of contemporary art, only my positioning is different see, and I have a different, more immediate set of relations... It’s about efficiency then, and direct communication. You start explaining your practice as an artist and people will struggle to relate it to the history of art. As a thing, it’s just a strange and convoluted mess. It does itself no favours. Under the guise of design however, people seem capable of understanding conventional design practice and how a counter or revolutionary design might work alongside that.”
“So what are you doing here?”
“I got lonely. I felt the loneliness of the road. The unfamiliar faces. The new relationships. I wanted to spend some time here, with the old relationships. The kind that are embedded completely in your being. People are generally friendly though, you know this. And these projects are really quite long term things, through which real relationships can and do develop. It’s not fleeting. I just didn’t want to begin again, somewhere else, just yet.”
They finished the coffee. Elisabeth made toast. Corey remained there watching.
“You want to walk over to the village with me? It’s been a long time since I was here.”
They walked slowly. Corey looked back at the house several times. Seeing if he could spot Lore.47
“Don’t worry about her. She’ll be fine. You didn’t fall in love or anything did you?”
“No, it wasn’t like that.”
“Well that’s a relief. Do you know when my father will return?”
“He said a couple of days. He didn’t seem to be expecting you both.”
“He might have sensed it.”
“My mother was an artist you know. Did she tell you that?”
“Cal mentioned it.”
She seemed pleasantly surprised by this.
“She painted. Grappled with the meaning of art. She was looking for something. She was hugely successful anyway, in terms of the market. I think she’s sad now that she has been mostly left out of the academic histories of the scenes around which she was a satellite. She was very sought after…”
“Would I have seen her work anywhere?”
“Possibly. It’s mostly in private collections. I’m sorry, this is boring, no? Story of my life, yawn.”
“No. Life is storytelling.”
“Hmm. My father had a man, an adviser I think, who was trying to find my mother. But in the end they just met by coincidence. She was a fan of one of the bands Cal was producing. I always imagined I might meet somebody like that one day. I don’t know whether it’s possible now though. The world’s changed. We’re a different species now Corey. Wired differently.”
“Did you sense that whilst fucking her?”
“Sorry, I’m just teasing. We’re all different. Sex won’t change that.”
They passed into the village. Elisabeth leading them up to the square. The young couple Corey had noticed before were there again. Elisabeth called out to them. They looked up, surprised, from their work.
“Pierrot et Marianne.”
They met on the edge of the square. There were the usual groups of people sat at the cafés, talking at the shop and one couple talking through an open window.
She hugged them both warmly.48
“This is Corey. A friend of my father.”
Pierrot shook his hand.
“I saw you both, before. The square is beautiful.”
“We can finish now. A drink?”
A smartphone appeared in Elisabeth’s hand. She pointed the camera at her friends. They leaned together goofily.
They both said and laughed.
“Sorry, Corey. We’re just messing with you.”
“Luc still supplying the wifi?”
“Elisabeth go and charm Youssef… Corey, do you mind helping me?”
Pierrot motioned for him to join him. He did so. Together they returned the various pieces of equipment to a small store room in the corner of the square. When they had finished they found Marianne and Elisabeth sat on one of the benches still catching the sunlight and beckoning them with a bottle of wine and tumblers.49
“You could always get away with anything…”
Pierrot laughs. He’s brought a blanket with him from the store room and spreads it in the air, letting it fall on the girls.
“Oh… well, everything.”
Elisabeth answered sincerely.
“Eli was the one that got away, you see, Corey.”
“I always felt like I had arrived here.”
“We grew up together, the three of us. And these hills.”
“We always tried to go further.”
“There was one time when Eli didn’t stop. You told us to start back, you’d catch up and you’d forgotten your bag or something. You appeared several days later.”
“It was an adventure.”
“You don’t seem like most who visit Cal’s place?”
Marianne quizzing Corey. He took the bottle of wine and refilled the glasses.
“I’m accidentally here I suppose.”
“Aah, intriguing. Love, presumably?”
They laughed. They drank and spoke on the square as it grew cooler into the evening. Eventually Elisabeth and Corey left. Marianne and Pierrot tucked together on the bench, content to finish the wine and watch the gentle changes of the plants they worked with all day. Subtle movements in communication with the sun. The perfection of the pétanque terrain. As they returned Elisabeth seemed absorbed in memories. Corey thought about Elsa. He tried to calculate the days they’d spent together. He tried to imagine life without her, with someone else.50
Corey walked to the edge of the wall. It appeared to fade out, as if beyond a certain point no one had bothered to claim ownership of the land. He stood on a plane of land that rose sharply towards one side. The mountain peak seemed almost close enough to walk to, but it would require more time. The clouds had gathered as they did most afternoons. The dust which had seemed so light moments before seemed now heavy and moist. Corey had heard several crashes of thunder already, but still a way off, another valley.
He wondered if dreams were simply echoes. Synapses firing. Like the thunder that bounced from slope to slope.
Cal wasn’t back yet. Corey was beginning to feel time slip. He was nervous, somehow. He told Lore he was going to the village. He found Luc at the bar, and they went to his house. Elisabeth had already been there several times to use the internet. Luc was proud of his computer. It was one of the latest Apple models and it appeared stocked with a range of software.
“I used to teach that…”
Corey mentioned as Luc scrolled through the programs.
“Oh really… It’s good to teach. I am teaching here in the village. Well, facilitating. The wifi is one thing, but the exciting part is the computer in the school, that is loaded with all kinds of stuff, and anyone can use it. The children learn quickly. They adapt.”
Luc opened a browser window and slid the keyboard across to Corey.51
He said. He stared at the keyboard for a moment. Unsure how to approach the machine. He could feel the pull of the rest of the world. He logged in to a VoIP site. He entered Elsa’s email and hit connect. After a moment a call tone started. Luc stood up and walked back into the kitchen where he searched around for some papers and tobacco. The tone continued and the computer’s video camera connected, bringing up a small window on the screen. Corey stared at the image of himself. It was strange to see it appear suddenly. Its absence from his consciousness was suddenly apparent. It was surprising in fact to find that he still had a physical form. He had felt like a ghost. Even whilst fucking Lore he had felt slightly estranged. It reminded him now of the computer games he used to play which would often glitch, when the floating camera became to close to a wall or boundary it would suddenly take on a physicality that overruled the players avatar. The camera became visible and othered through sudden protrusion into the avatar’s skull, the mesh of the face filling the screen grotesquely with gaping mouth and nostrils and a shifting degree of visibility. This was a trope already picked up by practicing artists and part of an engagement with technology that Corey had always felt quite close to, but only now, with this period of detachment did he again feel like he was seeing the objects clearly. He had given up hope of Elsa answering. The call would continue to attempt connection as long as he let it. The continuing call tone did not signify that somewhere there was a computer making similar tones that eventually Elsa should hear. This was a possibility, but the presence of the tone was really just the confirmation of a correct email address. Calling like this made him think about the flat. There, his reflection was a regular encounter and something which his perception of would change each day. It also incorporated Elsa, her body in reflected, still in the shower, her eyes meeting his. Luc called something from the other room, the smell of smoke had reached the veranda. Corey pulled at his beard. His skin had darkened with the sun. His eyes seemed somehow wider than before. He didn’t feel a great sense of ownership to this face. It was something that accompanied him.
Luc returned to the computer and hit disconnect.
“Maybe you can try another time?”
He said sitting across from Corey, still smoking.
“I miss Cal,”
Luc said exhaling smoke and flicking ash against the iron railings.
“We are a lot younger than a lot of the men around here,”
he says, tapping his head,52
“up here, I mean.”
“And you too, Corey, you are like us... There’s a difference you see, between those who were born here, and live the way of their forebears, mais, avec, addition, the mod-cons, on top of this life. And those who arrive here, or return, because they carry an awareness of something. Something important to living. To the act of living. The kind of thought that tends to accumulate in cities, but which needs rooting in the country. Within a different scale, of people and space. This is important Corey.”
He had finished smoking and leaned over the balcony from his seat, so that he was resting on his armpits. He looked like a boy.
“There are wolves in these hills now, you know?”
Corey looked back at the screen. The camera had continued monitoring.
He recalled his dream. He was leaving, and Elisabeth, Lore and Cal were waving him off. It was all a dream. Cal’s terrain, desertification, expanding from unsustainable development. Over-farming, deforestation. Human smallness. It did feel sometimes as if they were really somewhere in space and moving.
They had been sitting around the table together. Lore had made her speciality soup which was apparently only possible with the vegetables and water of this valley, but actually came from an old midwestern recipe from her grandma.53
It had been raining for several hours as a storm barrelled through the valley but now it was quiet and still.
Corey broke the silence,
“Can I see Cal’s collection?”
“That’s kinda personal, man...”
Lore replied coolly.
“Don’t be modest ma. Of course the real question is whats accessible. I’ll go see, you don’t really mind do you?”
“I’m just embarrassed. It was a lifetime ago.”
“Its my roots- those works were like manna. If I’m not back in ten, come find me.”
Elisabeth left. Corey listened to her footsteps disappearing softly up into the house. His eyes met Lore’s across the table. After a while she rolled her eyes and sighed,
“I’m sorry about before. I didn’t mean to...”
“No, I understand, it’s fine. I mean, it was good...”
“Yeah, that helps.”
“It’s a beautiful home you built here.”
“That’s kind. I resented the world we’d left for a long time but I’ve let that go now.”
Corey poured the rest of the wine between the three glasses and stood to clear the table.
“That soup is my heritage you know... We live so close to the land we might as well be burrowing, crawling on our bellies and wallowing in swampy mud, the whole weight of the sky above.”
Corey ran the tap over the piled bowls in the sink, watching them slowly fill and the excess disappear into the plug hole.
Corey sat down again at the table. They looked up together as Elisabeth could be heard descending the staircase, heavier and slower than before. She appeared with several large bound volumes.
“You weren’t killed in an avalanche then?”
“It’s the most orderly I’ve seen it. I think he’s been spending time up there. I even found this,”
Elisabeth placing the volumes on the table slid a photograph from the top of the pile. It was an old Polaroid of the house with Cal and Lore stood together, his arm loose around her shoulders and her arms linked around his neck and more of the gravel foreground than actual house.
“Your first photo hun.”
“I thought you had all the photos?”
“There were thousands. For prosperity... We might have made duplicates.”
Lore handed the photograph to Corey. He could see Elisabeth more clearly in both their faces and the way the held themselves. The house itself was more ramshackle than it was now although it looked as if the shutters had just been repaired and given a fresh coat of white paint. Elisabeth began to turn the pages of the first volume. They contained original drawings and photographic reproductions of larger works. these were the careful drawings of sports fields that Luc had mentioned. They were very delicate. They appeared to be in sequence with suites made up of five drawings that would relate in some way that was understood without really knowing why. On some pages there were notes indicating that the work was in a specific gallery now. There were many other loose leaves of notes scattered throughout which were all written in Cal’s hand and were observations or poems relating to the work. Lore read each if these carefully. Elisabeth opened the second volume. This one was almost entirely photographs of works by various artists and was arranged by loose themes so that each page followed nicely from the last. “This used to be in my bedroom.” Elisabeth touched the page softly.55
There were other works now that Corey recognised.
“And this, is the work my father bought before he had even met my mother”
“It wasn’t even painted…”
Corey could feel both women watching him take in the image. It suited reproduction with its colours flattened cleanly against the white primer. The play of the forms felt familiar and he was sure he’d seen Lore’s work somewhere else before. It had an assurance of form that felt very contemporary.
“I think I’m in love,”
he joked. They laughed. Elisabeth span the book now between herself and Lore. Together they continued to leaf through the pages, reading Cal’s endless notes. Corey felt himself vanishing from the room. He took his wine and moved quietly from the kitchen to Cal’s studio. He laid down on one of the rugs spread on the floor to absorb sound. He fell asleep listening to the soft bubble of chatter and laughing from the other room.
He was woken up by the sound of Cal’s voice.
“I’m sorry buddy. You ok?”
“I’ve got to keep going, otherwise I’ll miss her. I miss her.”
Stepping from the coach Elsa felt the rush of close heat. She turned to help the lady behind her descend the metal steps. She gazed then, at the blue sea. It felt like that fuzzy fm quality of electronic music, soft cotton-wool noise. The driver was handing luggage to the elderly people crowding around him. As he pulled each bag from the hold he called its owner by name. Elsa heard her name and moved through the group. She had a large rucksack that she had to kind of jump onto her back if she wished to carry it anyplace. For now she stood with it on the floor leaning against her waist, watching the sea like two old friends. After the bags were sorted there would be a roll call and then they would be checked into the hotel. Elsa looked at the ticket taped around her bag. It was labelled with the name of Sara’s dead grandmother. She was also called Sara. The coach had made several stops within England collecting people all old enough to be Elsa’s own grandparents. They didn’t seem to mind having her there and the tour guide who was just as old as everyone else seemed to like the slight naughtiness of it. Some of her companions called her Sara and others called her Elsa. After crossing the channel they had meandered south, making several overnight stops along the way, including walking tours of different cities and landmarks. She would be checked in to a room as Sara. She had enjoyed learning about some of the particularities of gothic architecture. Certain members of the tour were highly opinionated about such things. She was unsure about how she’d left things with Corey. She found it hard to remember what they’d ever spoken about. She missed holding him. She spoke to strangers.
Usually she would eat with her companions wherever had been previously arranged or else she would find somewhere by herself which no one seemed to mind either. This was the final stop of the tour and they would spend a week here before driving back. Elsa was overwhelmed by the realisation she was no longer moving further away. The woman she had helped down the steps appeared next to Elsa wheeling a suitcase behind her.
“Come on Elsa, they’re ready for us now.”
Elsa was aware that she was something of a ghost to her companions. She filled an empty seat.
The hotel was the most incredible yet. Elsa had no idea how much the ticket must have cost. The room was simple and decorated tastefully, but very spacious and with tall windows and a balcony facing the sea. She unpacked the rucksack fully for the first time in the journey. She refolded her clothes and placed them in the wardrobe. She went out through the hotel lobby, past the faces she recognised already collected, playing dominoes and around the streets until she spotted a small supermarket. She bought a bottle of wine and entered a boulangerie she’d noticed on the way buying a small baguette. It was late in the afternoon. The pebble beach was flanked by a raised promenade. There was a steady stream of people walking each way and the occasional cyclist or skater. Elsa returned to the hotel. She opened the wine and left it on the side. She tore an end off the baguette and ate it as she stripped from her clothes. She took a long shower. Afterwards Elsa poured some wine and sat at the dressing table. Sat as she was, through the window she could see the breaking waves but not quite glimpse the shore. Several bathers swam into her vision, small bobbing heads. She watched the horizon. After a while she found her sketchbook and a couple of books she had brought with her. She leafed through them, thinking.
Several drawings of churches, scale models that sat within a large stage, next to an actor turned away. The church steeple reaching only the actor’s shoulder. The presence of people within the sketches had been mildly alarming at first. She wasn’t sure whether or not they undermined the conceptual pinnings of the series. And yet she had been drawing them for several days now. They were props themselves, or actors as much as the blocks and other props she was used to drawing. Some were accorded motion by their position on moving walkways or by way of attachment to long lengths of rope that dangled from the rafters.57
She wondered for a moment what would happen next in her life. In the kind of way her and Corey used to think about the Age of Emergence. She thought about Corey, installing in Sweden. She was proud of him, still. On the third stop of the trip she’d left the hotel and found a bar full of artists like her. They drank and smoke heavily. She had slept with one of them. It had been incredible, entirely different to with Corey. He was a filmmaker. She’d given him one of her drawings. They said they’d email. She thought about touch, and touching another human. There was the app that she and Corey used to mess around with. Touching through glass. And it was more than that, because there were the chemicals it was treated with, that were poisonous and people had died making the devices from having to engage these materials. There was death behind all production. She thought about the moment of touch in Elise’s exhibition. It felt distant. She imagined her actions playing on a stage. Three acts. Condensed dialogue. Smaller pauses. Still nothingness.
Elsa studied the itinerary she’d been handed whilst still on the coach. At the top of the paper Sara’s name was printed followed by ‘(Elsa)’ in biro. Unlike their other stops the time in Nice was mostly left free for ‘unguided exploration.’ It was also noted that several sun-loungers had been reserved on a specific tract of beach as well as a Pétanque terrain on the promenade.
Elsa spent the first night mostly alone in her room. She wondered back to the lobby bar at some point to see if anyone was around. They weren’t and she returned back to her room. She watched the people passing by on the promenade. There were lights along the promenade but they were high and mostly diffused by the time they reached the figures. Instead people’s faces and the bare arms and legs of tourists all reflected the blue purple neons of the hotels and bars. They were too far away to really study.
Elsa overslept and missed breakfast. She had fallen asleep late, after spending several hours drawing. She went to the toilet and showered again. She had finished the bottle of wine and it was more than she’d usually drink alone. She dressed in her bikini with a light dress over the top. She emptied the remaining contents of her rucksack onto a chair and threw in one of the hotel towels, her purse, ID and a book. There was a walking tour starting soon and she left the hotel in search of breakfast, intending to return in time to join the group. On stepping from the hotel however, she was faced again with the sea and she desired nothing more than to stare at it all day. She walked along the promenade until she came to a small café. She ordered coffee. She didn’t feel hungry. She considered returning to the tour for a moment and then forgot all about it. Everything seemed to move to a certain vibration here. It was as if the place was tuned to the same frequency. Elsa felt the vibe as never before. It was like surfing a perfect wave. She felt deliriously comfortable. She paid for the coffee and crossed the promenade, towards one of the descending staircases. She didn’t feel like using the reserved loungers which were further away now, near the hotel, at the risk of being drawn into conversation by anyone who might be there. She also didn’t feel like being Sara today. She felt like telling someone her name. The beach was busy, people all laid out on towels, turning gold under the sun. Children splashed in the shallows. A few people floated further out on fluorescent inflatables. These, Elsa noticed, were also being used on land to make the pebbles more comfortable. She picked her way through the people towards the water’s edge. There was a shelf in the stone that meant bathers could camp very close to the edge with low risk of getting wet. Elsa decided to do the same. She unpacked the towel from her bag and lay it out across the grey stone. She looked back up towards the promenade. The people all walking past could observe the beach activity and many were sat on benches simply watching. It gave the situation a kind of charged collective voyeurism. She turned her back and lifted her dress swiftly over her head. She dropped it neatly into her bag and stepped down into the sea. The water had the sharp coolness of crystal. It seemed to burn blue. Elsa swam out briskly with strong precise strokes. The sound of children splashing was soon distant. A plane landing roared into existence as it flew low across the bay. Elsa gasped. Her feet kicked the clear depths. She turned back to the shore as if expecting someone to have noticed her, for their attention to be directed solely at her somehow. But everything seemed as it had been. The point from which she had set out had drifted to the left of her vision. The current, moving her diligently like sand. She swam back slowly. She noticed now the way the coast curved gradually. To her right she could see the promenade feed higher towards a steep hill before it wrapped around and out of sight. She tried to count the palm trees lining the promenade. She noticed a shoal of tiny silver fish passing in front and beneath her. The sound of people became more focused once more. The traffic and chatter. Her feet found the pebble bed and she pulled herself out of the sea, each wave clinging, trying to draw her back. She moved the rucksack underneath the end of her towel to create a small pillow. She laid down. Her toes moved in front of the sea. She closed her eyes and hoped to turn gold.
She walked up to the point she’d seen earlier from the sea. The early evening crowds amassing. People still relaxing on the beach. The hill was further away than she had thought. She gave up hope of reaching it for the moment and stopped to sit on the wall. There were two of the larger staircases leading to the beach nearby and it was busy with people. Many were simply pausing for photos, perched on the wall, capturing ships lights and distant lighthouse all beginning to twinkle in the twilight -behind neon lit faces from the hotels and casinos still lacing the promenade. There were occasionally other people alone like her. She noticed one man nearby who had been sat watching everything like her. He appeared out of place like a tourist but with the accumulated presence of someone who had been there a long time. He watched everything from behind thick-rimmed glasses under a mop of thin hair. He had suddenly noticed that was sitting within the frame of a photo being taken just along from him. He stood quickly too move out of the shot. He noticed Elsa watching him and smiled as if he was embarrassed. Elsa smiled back and he shrugged and wandered away slowly. The encounter was peculiar in the way that it seemed as if the two of them were invisible to everyone else, or more than that, everyone else was blind to anything further than their own image and it was only Elsa and he that could see through, into the reality of night. Elsa imagined how many photos she must have been captured in just sitting as she had been. She hadn’t noticed the man appear, so maybe he had been there longer. People drifted in a reflection of the sea below them. She left the wall and walked quickly back towards the hotel to join the others for dinner.58
After eating, Elsa again left the hotel. She walked through the town, where the streets heaved with tourists and bars and restaurants were full. Street performers carved out spaces and moments of focus under streetlights. It was not like before, when she’d found the bar of artists.
That night she left her window slightly open and the curtains moved gently in the cool air. It reminded her of Elise’s exhibition. She dreamt of curtains.
Elsa had fallen into the rhythm of the beach. The intense relaxation. Concentrated chill. She felt the magnetism of the sun against her body such that noon was lightness and by evening her feet would once more tread footprints in the terrain. She longed to see behind the gates of walled gardens that rolled out along the streets under tall buildings. She marvelled at the warmness of everything. Painted stone walls and round metal posts, old green statues and waxy leaves.
She noticed the man again, that she’d seen on the second evening. He was sat amongst all the other people on the benches along the promenade. She picked up her towel and began drying, remaining standing to figure things out a little more. Her towel was warm from the sun and the stones. The man hadn’t seemed to notice her yet. She felt like making herself known, however. He seemed to be alone and she was curious. She waved. After a moment the man noticed Elsa. He seemed to recognise her immediately and waved back. After this he returned to his gaze to the sea. Elsa did the same.
Alice who had been Elsa’s friend throughout the trip had spotted her from the promenade later in the day. Elsa suspected she had been looking for her. She was tired of the other’s who had a complex rota for the distribution of sun loungers. Elsa enjoyed talking to Alice. She was interested in the arts and had many opinions about the things she saw. She had also visited several exhibitions at Projector. She appreciated the ‘youthfulness’ of the venture although she admitted to being old enough to have appreciated several waves of such energy already.59
“It’s up to you to say something new, to move things forwards.”
She also warned Elsa that it wouldn’t be too long before she herself fell out of touch with that specific nowness and would have to rely on new, younger voices.
“But that doesn’t matter really. Now is completely irrelevant in the path of time. You just have to be accessible, as in, avoid obsoletion. Backup CDs every few years. Digital data corrupts. And be selective, we shouldn’t keep everything.”
They swam out into the sea. Alice was strong and raced ahead of Elsa. She watched her lithe limbs cut the water. Elsa was skinny, which she’d always liked, but she hadn’t noticed how physically weak she was. She couldn’t remember actively exercising for a long time. She and Corey had occasionally played squash. She felt her walking through the city and standing all day during shifts was probably doing enough. Better than a desk job. But out here she was unable to compete with Alice. Alice who had spent her retirement thus far exploring a new world which included river swimming, Bikram yoga and spin classes. She had little time for those on the trip who had initiated impromptu zumba sessions.
“We should see the art museum Elsa,”
she called back. Elsa drew close with several strokes. She tried to concentrate on the exact distance the rolling waves were lifting them with each pass. Swimmers between themselves and the beach would disappear behind the breaking waves.
“I didn’t know there was one.”
“You know Yves Klein?”
“Klein... Blue. Lot’s of blue.”
“Yes… He was born here. The museum holds some of his work, and is run by some hot young curator, so the contemporary programme is meant to be good.”
“I’d like to go, sure.”
They began to swim, at Alice’s lead, back towards the shore.
“He was interested in the void.”
As Elsa’s legs kick, cold depths, weightless. Avoidance.60
They lay wet in the sun until their skin had dried and the surface was dusty fine salt crystals. Alice asked if Elsa would like to see the pétanque. The terrain had apparently been in near constant use. Elsa tagged along with Alice for a while. The pétanque was near the point she had reached on the first night. After a while, Alice was drawn into the game and Elsa slipped away, to wander further along the bay. The promenade snaked around a spit of land. A steep hillside reached up from this point. There was dense vegetation, and here and there, stone balustrades, indicating walkways that climbed the hill. There were signs occasionally mentioning Nietzsche. She could remember vaguely that he’d spent time there, or lived a while... but he hadn’t died, that must have been later, following the incident in Turin. She thought about Zarathustra living up the hill, the city emerging below. Around this jut of land the city was different. A large marina filled the deep bay and the city sprawled behind it, more haphazardly than its counterpart around the hill, although it evidently connected on the other side of hill. The hill was an island. Cut off from the mountains that were visible in land. She knew artists -young ones, part of her ‘generation’, who’d started saying the void was passé, dead language. She realised she hadn’t eaten lunch and sat down at a small bar overlooking the marina. There were far less tourists here. The café was near a bus terminal and there were frequent transactions of people in work-clothes or bags of groceries. She drank a lemonade slowly. To eat she had quinoa salad with an eclectic mix of beans and rich flavouring. It was better than the food she’d been eating at the hotel. She read a few pages from the book she had with her. Elsa had often enjoyed reading dense theoretical and philosophical texts whilst sunbathing. Some of the French ones she’d read untranslated. They made a change from the preciseness of the play’s she spent most of her time reading. They were filled with a different kind of language, a long monologue. She let the language wash through her. It felt deeply cleansing, to have the phrases excite different and unfamiliar ideas within her mind, not distinct from the narratives she was used to but intensely focussed on singular moments of the narrative, and moments that provided the structure for the whole thing. The café proved to visually noisy to read much though. She kept finding herself listening to the conversations of other customers, or trying to focus on the sea shifting in pockets between waving masts and rigging. After a while she paid and left. She had decided to attempt to return to the hotel through the main streets, guessing at a direction through the streets that ran behind the hill.
Near a long section of market that sprawled through small alleyways that seemed to just drop away from the main road, Elsa noticed she was once more in the company of that familiar stranger. He was walking through the crowds of people several metres in front of Elsa. She followed him for a while, unnoticed. He didn’t pause at the various stalls and open shopfronts like most people. The alleyway entered a large square, with a church at one side. Most of the crowds were moving around the edge of this space, keeping close to the market stalls. A few would walk across the raised central square. A restaurant served tables occupying a corner sector of this space. The man cut diagonally across the square. Elsa became suddenly aware of her presence behind him.
she called. He turned, surprised. He seemed instantly pleased to see her though.
“It’s a small town.”
He paused, studying her.
“I’m Elsa. I like it here.”
“It’s nice, ha-ha.”
He spoke with a kind of nervousness or excitement. He was American, or had been.61
“How long have you been here?”
“Oh, a very long time now. A lifetime at least. I’m a local really.”
“How long are you here?”
“A few days more.”
“Well we should talk. I mean I could show you around a few places, if you like. I’m actually on my way to a rendezvous, at the moment, I’m not quite as solitary as I may have appeared. Well possibly. It’s a romantic thing, I shouldn’t be late.”
“I’m sorry, of course, don’t be late. It would be good to talk.”
He asked, scribbling an address on the page of a small notebook before tearing the page out and handing it to Elsa. He looked around the square as if noticing the buildings for the first time.
“It must be nice to see this all, with fresh eyes. Well, until tomorrow, Elsa.”
He turned swiftly and continued across the square. Elsa gazed around. She realised she was lost.
She paid a couple of euros at the counter for half an hour’s connection. She had been picking up her emails along the way, hopping between wifi. Corey hadn’t emailed, which had been surprising. The sun refracted through the streetfacing window made her squint at the screen. The screen itself, dappled with her reflection. Above the sound of her neighbours typing, and the traffic and all the people she could hear the surf. No one had emailed really. There was just the usual sludge, of exhibition press releases and opportunities of varying viability. Today there was a love letter from a Russian woman. The light here was like that in space -or the rendering of such light by hollywood. It was unfiltered. Incredible clarity. And this was in turn like that of CGI and digital renderings, in cases where the effect of the atmosphere was turned off. Elsa logged into a couple of sites, checking for incoming communication. She thought about calling Corey. He probably knew about the thing with the light, the clarity. A message appeared on the screen from one of her work colleagues. She crossed it off. But then opened it back up and sent a short reply. Something nice, funny and at least confirming she was alive, to someone. She checked the timer in the corner of the screen, indicating how long she had left of paid internet. She googled a celebrity she suddenly realised J looked like. There was a similarity. Brothers even. She shut down the computer and sat staring at her reflection a while in the dead black screen. Through a glass, darkly. Etc. The terminals were mostly full. There were men watching videos of men reading the Quran. People chatting via the small spherical webcams that clasped the wooden partitions. A child watching cartoons. There was a quote on a small piece of paper affixed to the wall, attributed to Einstein.
Elsa dined with the tour folk. They argued over the differing accounts of the day’s pétanque results. Someone told Elsa that it was important because for most of them, each day could, quite likely, be their last, and such victories gained importance.62
She asked for directions in the hotel lobby to J’s place. The receptionist drew a route over the top of a map printed on a leaflet advertising the different locations of events for a festival that had already finished.
“Elsa, great. Wow. Shall we walk? I just realised I was out of coffee. And besides, there’s a patisserie, boulangerie I should show you.”
He looked back into the building before reaching back for a beaten old wallet. Elsa stood in the small courtyard, observing. He left the door unlocked. He paused a moment on the stoop. The cat that had lived always in the street watched from a distance. Sometimes it would walk close, wait to be stroked and roll over onto the dusty stone, purring. The cat yawned and lay down its head. The woman who lived next door, an old widow, would leave a small plate of fish out, occasionally, on her windowsill, which this cat seemed to have won rights to over all the other neighborhood cats, and could eat slowly, or in several sittings as he pleased.
“You look radiant.”
She frowned, embarrassed. She responded,
“You look very smart J.”
He did, and she was ashamed she hadn’t noticed. He appeared to be trying.
“So, tell me about yourself, Elsa…”
“I am reeling from the decision to leave my best friend. I felt still. Glacial. I thought it would save us. I’m here. In a few days I will return to the place I left. I’m scared. I’m an artist. I make things, for more reasons than I can explain, or their titles suggest.”
“You appear serene. You are the master of this Elsa.”
He struck a sailors salute, and pointed a flat hand, semaphore signal, towards the sea.63
“Name one reason.”
“It makes a space where I can breathe. It’s selfish.”
“I’d dare say you make others feel the same way.”
They walked around the modernist familiar curves of the art museum. They stood transfixed at the contained sea of blue.
“Why did you stay?”
“I never completed my assignment…”
“I don’t believe so. I was an advisor to a collector. It was all a long time ago. We were friends. I had graduated Art History and he found a use for me. That was his talent in those days. Anyway, the collection grew quickly… and carefully. There was a young artist making a big impression on the New York circuit, we were mostly West Coast you see, and anyway, we started buying. She was contracted to show at a real nice place, and we bought the work, the whole lot, unseen. It was then that she disappeared. I was dispatched to track her down. Convince her to complete the series.”
Elsa wondered if Alice had made it to the gallery. She imagined introducing her to J.
“As far as I could tell, she was alone. Like you, I suppose. I followed her from New York, across most of Europe. Eventually she led me here. I was sure she must be here. I took a room in the building I still live in, and wrote to my old friend. He suggested I stay, until I found her. I realised after a long time, that I was in love with the idea of this person. They were more fiction than reality by this point. I had files of details, clues… I continued to write updates to my friend. He replied to begin with. And sent the cheques too. I still receive them. How’s that?”
Outside the museum it had started to rain. A sudden outburst. There were kids in distinct groups, male and female. The girls, under steel frame, and mirrored in glass behind, dance a short routine in tight formation. The music plays on a small stereo. The dancers stop and the music continues. Another girl sat cross-legged next to the stereo skips the track back to the beginning. The girls reposition and count in. Across from the girls, the boys watch. They have their own routine.
“Come on, it won’t last long.”
J casts them out into the rain. Cross a chequered marble grid. Elsa is deciding which question to ask first. J seems tired maybe, the mystery dissolved.
“I suppose she might return for real one day… what would happen then?”
“I suppose it would be over. I’d move back home.”
“But what about your friends, people… they aren’t fiction?”
“I have known them a long time. I can write. I should maybe find somewhere else. There was a small town in Italy that I always intended to return to. I passed through there trailing her. Of course.”
They reach the network of alleyways as the rain begins to fade. Sunlight appears. Everything once again marked by its shadow. J directs them to a small boulangerie. He knows the proprietor and they ask each other about the day. He buys a baguette and two coffees. He tells Elsa exactly which pastry is the best and insists on buying one for her to eat later. He introduces Elsa as his ‘Friend Anglais.’ She likes him. The idea of his life terrifies her. She feels close to it. Home is a vague concept. They walk and feel invisible.64
“You see how the place changes, Elsa, with a place to go. Permanence I mean. We become fixtures.”
“We see by looking.”
J lets the words occupy him. Soon they reach the small courtyard. They were greeted by the cat, to which J said a few words in French. He opened the door and showed Elsa through to the kitchen area. The place was well kept. Lived in, but almost definitively by a single occupant. J poured the coffee into mugs. They sat in the living room which was large and offered functionality as dining room and study also. A desk occupied one corner. It was scattered with sun-bleached papers, clippings and maps. It was the kind of place where motes of dust would hang in the sunlight during long afternoons.
“I don’t use it so much nowadays. It’s mostly loose ends.”
J said gesturing to the desk.
“The hard evidence is all archived.”
They sat across from each other at the small dining table. They drank the coffee without saying much more. J had left the table at some point to select an LP. A solo Spanish guitar. The musicians intake of breath heard occasionally and the movement of fingers on strings. A chair creaking. Elsa looked around at the walls, which were full of prints of various works of art. She recognised many. They were arranged with an expert’s knowledge. Each work in its paper reproduction complementing its neighbour. It was like a trail of thoughts, a map. It was about the woman who J would never know and the place he’d lived his life. She noticed a reproduction of the sculpture they had seen earlier in the museum. Blue.
“Elsa, it was a rare pleasure to spend this time with you. I must leave to meet an acquaintance. Please, don’t get up. Stay as long as you please.”
He left before she could move. The record had stopped a long while ago. The motes were stirring. She stood eventually and walked slowly around the room. She considered leafing through the papers on the desk. She picked up several books from the shelves. She set the record playing again. She remembered seeing a pad of paper in the kitchen and went to retrieve it. She drew a sketch for J. It was a large Bauhaus-inspired stage. There was a mask on the floor, stage-right. There was also a grid marked out on the floor. Besides this the stage was empty. Elsa left the sketch on the table and left. She ate the pastry that J had bought her. It was still warm and she fell asleep on the beach.
The coach was leaving and she was on it.