An extract from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Then we had the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash, light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple, black cat’s ears in the sun, indigo shadow, and the bleeding hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out. There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently. A Tennyson garden, heavy with scent, languid; the return of the word swoon. Light pours down upon it from the sun, true, but also heat rises, from the flowers themselves, you can feel it: Like holding your hand an inch above an arm, a shoulder. It breathes, in the warmth, breathing itself in. To walk through it in these days, of peonies, of pinks and carnations, makes my head swim.
The willow is in full plumage and is no help, with its insinuating whispers. Rendezvous, it says, terraces; the sibilants run up my spine, a shiver as if in fever. The summer dress rustles against the flesh of my thighs, the grass grows underfoot, at the edges of my eyes there are movements, in the branches; feathers, flittings, grace notes, tree into bird, metamorphosis run wild. Goddesses are possible now and the air suffuses with desire. Even the bricks of the house are softening, becoming tactile; if I leaned against them they’d be warm and yielding. It’s amazing what denial can do. Did the sight of my ankle make him lightheaded, faint, at the checkpoint yesterday, when I dropped my pass and let him pick it up for me? No handkerchief, no fan, I use what’s handy.
Winter is not so dangerous. I need hardness, cold, rigidity; not this heaviness, as if I’m a melon on a stem, this liquid ripeness.
The novelist Paul Auster based a character, Maria, on French artist Sophie Calle in his novel Leviathan. After reading the novel, Calle decided to try and become the character, to recreate the parts of Maria that Auster had made up. Maria had a “chromatic diet”, eating food of only one colour on a given day. Monday orange: carrots, cantaloupe, shrimps. Tuesday red: tomatoes, steak tartare. And so on. For a week, Calle followed this regime and photographed it.
“He had used my real life to create a fictional character and I wanted to reverse the process. I asked him to write a character that I could become.”
Brazilian artist Vik Muniz is famous for using materials such as chocolate sauce, sugar, dirt, and cotton wool to create fleeting images which live on in the photographs he takes. In Medusa Plate he re-creates Caravaggio’s Medusa, rendered in pasta marinara. He describes himself as an alchemist who makes visual magic out of the mundane.
Life Without You proposes a layout of shells from exotic places as the desolate emptiness of lost love. Hirst has said that he likes shells ‘because they once contained life’; this aspect of them is paramount for him. However, although he is presenting a landscape of dead husks, they have already been transformed, through varnishing, into a range of attractive consumable objects, leading to the suggestion, in Life Without You, that the abandoned subject may find consolation elsewhere. The grid in this work is compromised by its variations and exceptions, perhaps allowing some hope despite the bleakness of the implied end. In comparison to works made by Schwitters using found pebbles, a feather and shell, such as Symphony for a Poet, 1940, its collage of humble objects suggesting melancholy and contemplation, Hirst’s table arrangement appears upbeat, clean and colourful, if a little sterile. The aesthetics and tactics of advertising have become central characteristics of Hirst’s work: Life Without You anticipates his later use of them to reinterpret traditionally poetic subjects (love, loss, life, death) in a new language of contemporary art that fuses minimalism, pop and the cult of the commodity.
text from Tate