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.
“I see Castro’s entire body of work as a series of breadcrumbs scattered across a forest floor. For some, hundreds of tiny pieces of old stale bread is hardly worth noticing, while others are able to discover within a trail of detritus a path towards something not yet known. It this within this tension between the known and unknown that de Castro’s works generously offer the alchemical potential to their viewers. Of course, with alchemy everything is already there for the making, but one must have the right point of view…”
From Steve Roden’s essay, The Intimate Boundlessness, in the exhibition catalogue Concrete Invention: Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
By Sharon Olds
Like other identical twins, they can be
better told apart in adulthood.
One is fast to wrinkle her brow,
her brain, her quick intelligence. The other
dreams inside a constellation,
freckles of Orion. They were born when I was thirteen,
they rose up, half out of my chest,
now they’re forty, wise, generous.
I am inside them — in a way, under them,
or I carry them, I’d been alive so many years without them.
I can’t say I am them, though their feelings are almost
my feelings, as with someone one loves. They seem,
to me, like a gift that I have to give.
That boys were said to worship their category of
being, almost starve for it,
did not escape me, and some young men
loved them the way one would want, oneself, to be loved.
All year they have been calling to my departed husband,
singing to him, like a pair of soaking
sirens on a scaled rock.
They can’t believe he’s left them, it’s not in their
vocabulary, they being made
of promise — they’re like literally kept vows.
Sometimes, now, I hold them a moment,
one in each hand, twin widows,
heavy with grief. They were a gift to me,
and then they were ours, like thirsty nurslings
of excitement and plenty. And now it’s the same
season again, the very week
he moved out. Didn’t he whisper to them,
Wait here for me one year? no.
He said, God be with you, God
be with you, God-bye, for the rest
of this life and for the long nothing. And they do not
know language, they are waiting for him, my
Christ they are dumb, they do not even
know they are mortal — sweet, I guess,
refreshing to live with, beings without
the knowledge of death, creatures of ignorant suffering.
The Passion According to G.H. (1964) is a disturbing and shocking novel by Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. Set in Rio de Janeiro, it tells the story of a wealthy woman, G.H, who encounters a cockroach in the service quarters of her apartment. The occurrence leads to a nervous breakdown and an existential crisis and ends in our heroine eating a part of the roach…
“The roach is an ugly and sparkling being. The roach is the other way around. No, no, it doesn’t have a way around: it is that. Whatever is exposed in it is what I hide in me: from my outside being exposed I made my unheeded inside. It was looking at me. And it wasn’t a face. It was a mask. A diver’s mask. That precious gem of rusted iron. Its two eyes were alive like two ovaries. It was looking at me with the blind fertility of its gaze. It was fertilizing my dead fertility. Would its eyes be salty? If I touched them — since I was gradually getting more and more unclean — if I touched them with my mouth, would they taste salty?
I’d already tasted in my mouth a man’s eyes and, from the salt in my mouth, realized he was crying.
But, thinking about the salt in the roach’s black eyes, suddenly I recoiled again, and my dry lips pulled back to my teeth: the reptiles that move across the earth! In the halted reverberation of the light of the room, the roach was a small slow crocodile. The dry and vibrating room. The roach and I posed in that dryness as on the dry crust of an extinct volcano. That desert I had entered, and also inside it I was discovering life and its salt.”
The red-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in, I might say never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it contained: yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion. A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth; the walls were a soft fawn colour with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe, the toilet-table, the chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany. Out of these deep surrounding shades rose high, and glared white, the piled-up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles counterpane. Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy-chair near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it; and looking, as I thought, like a pale throne.
This room was chill, because it seldom had a fire; it was silent, because remote from the nursery and kitchen; solemn, because it was known to be so seldom entered. The house-maid alone came here on Saturdays, to wipe from the mirrors and the furniture a week’s quiet dust: and Mrs. Reed herself, at far intervals, visited it to review the contents of a certain secret drawer in the wardrobe, where were stored divers parchments, her jewel-casket, and a miniature of her deceased husband; and in those last words lies the secret of the red-room–the spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur.
Mr. Reed had been dead nine years: it was in this chamber he breathed his last; here he lay in state; hence his coffin was borne by the undertaker’s men; and, since that day, a sense of dreary consecration had guarded it from frequent intrusion.
From Jane Eyre by Charlote Brontë
Valeska Soares was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1957 and, like most of Brazil’s contemporary artists, has been influenced by the historical Baroque and by Neo-Concretism. Her installation, Vanishing Point, is based on the conflict of visual and olfactory perception. In this installation Soares explores the capacity of scent to magnify one’s senses and heighten the connection between sense and reason, body and intellect. It comprises of fifteen steel receptacles filled with amber-coloured perfume. The containers vary in shape and are arranged to form the pattern of a Baroque garden, also alluding to the shape of labyrinths in several architectural traditions. The perfume impregnates the room with a sweet smell which soon becomes overbearing and creates an oppressive atmosphere. The simple and minimalist symmetry created by the steel containers contrasts sharply with the frenzied scent to create a contradictory experience.
In Vanishing Point (1998) Soares explores the fine line between being intoxicated by something and being sickened by it, a concept she frequently involves in her work. When describing the role of perfume in her work, Suarez said “perfume has become a metaphor for possibilities of intoxication. It’s a substance that crosses that border between being pleasurable and being overintoxicating”. In Vanishing Point, the pleasant perfume is something that seduces the viewer, however, once they are immersed in it, it becomes heavy and oppressive. This idea was beautifully represented on the opening night of the installation when bees were lured by the scent of the perfume and fell into the tanks to meet their death.
Vanishing Point fuses elements of the Baroque tradition with contemporary concepts and mediums. The frantic effect of the perfume mimics the excess which is typical of the Baroque period. The installation also has a definite vanitas quality –a common Baroque theme– as the aroma draws attention to the ephemeral character of the garden and the mortality of all living things.
The idea for this piece grows out of Soares’ keen interest in spaces, gardens and various ideas of paradise. Her fascination with scents stems from her interest in ephemeral things, in her work she does not attempt to create a logical narrative but rather give people triggers that activate memories so that they can create their own narratives. Each piece is subjective and can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the context of the person viewing it.
Vanishing Point softens rigid geometric forms with the sensuality of perfumes. However, little by little the perfume evaporates, leaving the message that even though steel structures may outlive sensual transient ones it is the abstract and spiritual that leaves a profound mark on our memory. Soares also wished to underscore the temporality of grandeur and beauty in the “feminine” essence against the enduring geometric maze’s “masculine” presence with its overtones of order and logic.
Francis Alys is a Belgian architect turned artist. He went to Mexico City in 1987 to help with a rebuilding program after an earthquake and has been living in Mexico City ever since. He abandoned his career as an architect and started working in a number of media including photography, video, installation, and painting. Alys is an avid wanderer and much of his work draws inspiration from the streets around his studio in Mexico City.
Being Belgian, Alys occupies an interesting position as a foreigner and an immigrant. From his stance as an outsider he presents his version of reality by taking the mundane and shifting it slightly into the absurd or the poetic.
Humor is very important in Alys’ work. He says, “Laughter is a symptom of incomprehension… a simple manifestation of the defeat of intelligence.” But While Alys may make us laugh, he also makes us think, at the core of his work we often find the more brutal implications of city life.
In his video El Gringo, Alys explores the discomfort of being an outsider. Gringo, the Latin American name for Americans is usually used to generalize all white foreigners, this video is a comment on the social tendencies to group people together based on their appearance. In the video the viewer follows the camera down a rural path, a few pot hounds approach and start circling the camera and barking wildly. They get increasingly riled up and begin snarling and baring their teeth. The camera suddenly drops and we are left to assume that the man behind the camera has been bitten. Everything is still for a little while until the dogs return and start sniffing and licking the camera.