Wednesday, 16 June 2010
"Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it... Inside its cocoon of work or social obligation, the human spirit slumbers for the most part, registering the distinction between pleasure and pain, but not nearly as alert as we pretend. There are periods in the most thrilling day during which nothing happens, and though we continue to exclaim 'I do enjoy myself' or 'I am horrified' we are insincere. As far as I feel anything, it is enjoyment, horror – it's no more than that really, and a perfectly adjusted organism would be silent."
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
I had to break up with my adored boyfriend yesterday - if such he was, I'm still not entirely sure, the word 'my' sits too awkwardly. It was over the email in the end, shockingly. As yet he hasn't responded. Oddly enough one does rather hope for a response at times like this, but never mind, I can't have it all ways I suppose.
Keen on the idea of a few Bovary-esque moments I'm going through occasional and short lived bursts of blaming the failure of this latest romantic debacle entirely upon Him, getting angry and so forth, hurling at the blank wall ahead of me imaginary insults on the voluminous subject of his great ineptitude, even contemplated falling into a swoon; then suddenly and unexpectedly, calm is restored, as though it never left. I put the kettle on.
The truth is I know it's as much my fault as his. I chose to become romantically attached to a man very recently separated knowing perfectly well the problems we'd encounter. I've been there myself. I know the form. We all have. So why did I go down that path? Why choose to be somebody's rebound fling? What does that tell me about myself, I wonder, knowing already the answer.
But I go through the motions nonetheless, the things one expects of oneself in these situations. I call my girlfriends and bore them rigid wailing about my heart ache; take valerian certain that I shan't sleep a wink otherwise; stop eating of course – the pounds are flying off - every cloud and all of that… I text my friend to tell her this. 'Bitch x' she texts back. I guffaw.
Then I catch myself humming in the shower and as I sit here I find I'm feeling not so very far off jolly, or more accurately, I'm feeling, I don't know, not that much.
I've changed the sheets, washed my hair, put his t-shirt – the one solitary possession of his that I have here – into a paper bag by the door. And that's it really. Doesn't add up to a great deal, does it? One lone paper bag by the door. One more failure notched up in a history of same. One more desperate parting. At least it's a brief reminder that I'm alive, a blessed glimpse of horror, a flash of something felt before the curtain falls once again.
In this oddly oscillating state of cherished aliveness I saw The Surreal House at Barbican. Everything was more intense, as though a layer of skin had been peeled away. It was an apt show to visit in the circumstances, its raison d'etre, and perhaps that of Surrealism's entire oeuvre, seemingly to shock the viewer out of her slumber, to poke her into a state of vivid aliveness with the disturbing yet strangely beautiful zap of an electric prod.
In the first room Donald Rodney's In The House of My Father hangs opposite Buster Keaton's 1928 projected feature film Steamboat Bill Jr.. Both works tragically sad. Rodney's heart-breakingly poetic image of the frailty of the human body – a tiny house consisting solely of pieces of his own skin held together with two pins that he made whilst in hospital suffering from sickle cell anaemia, of which he later died at the age of 37. Steamboat Bill Jr. features Keaton's most famous and oft referenced stunt in which the façade of a house collapses over him, his life saved by a whisker when the attic window passes over his head and down his body, as the façade slams to the ground - a reminder of the immense physical and emotional fragility we live with day-in-day-out but are almost never aware of. If we were more often aware of it how different our lives might be. In the moment might be the only way to live; compassion the only emotion.
In the background I can hear a noise that turns out to be Rebecca Horn's 1990 Concert for Anarchy. A grand piano is suspended upside down from the high ceiling. Periodically and (at first) unexpectedly, its innards are flung out to the accompaniment of a great cacophony of jarring sound, as though the piano's very heart were being torn out. The keys burst from the noble instruments metaphoric chest as though reeling from a grenade. Next the heavy lid swings open. The piano hangs in this state of vulnerability for a couple of minutes, part shocking and part wondrous revelation, before the keys are slowly and effortfully re-integrated back into the body of the whole and the lid quietly closes over the wounds. Once again the notion of an object complete and in control is presented to the world. Yet it remains, eternally suspended upside down from its legs, its absurd and agonising plight plain for all to see. And then, moments later, its heart is broken once again.
"I did my best, it wasn't much,
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch,
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you,
And even though it all went wrong,
I'll stand right here before the Lord of song,
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah"