By Dave Lordan
A few weeks after the artist’s so-called stroke a collector came to the rehabilitation unit to parley.
I have been collecting you for thirty-two years, the collector said, since the very beginning.
The collector opened a briefcase and took out his several items, laying them out carefully on the coffee table for the purposes of display. He was aiming to jog the artist’s memory of who he was before the stroke and return him to self-consciousness and the living world.
The artist had not yet recovered his tongue. His hands were paralyzed. The medics assumed he had completely forgotten who he was.
The collector read from index cards to explain each item as he was going along:
Identifying Item A: Cassette tape, tape decayed and unplayable, label in faded and indecipherable red biro. Belonging to the late 70’s ‘early juvenilia’ era. Retrieved from hired skip in 1999. Indicating known interest in ‘alternative’ popular music of the time. Also evidence of famed early proclivity towards bohemian criminal activities, many now legal, and knowledge of/employment of alternative distribution channels. Traces of seventeen people’s DNA on the cassette tape, seven females, ten males. Small traces also of sperm, shit, menstrual blood.
The artist wanted to tell him that he had never been a bohemian, that that was a middle-class, city-dwellers thing. He was always a punk of the outskirts. The songs he liked - especially when he was pissed - were angry, not maudlin,. He didn’t smoke his drugs buzz either. He snorted it, like a good little punk.
Identifying Item B: Shard from a pint-bottle of Harp Lager. Circa 1981. Reputed to be from the bottle which held subject’s first ever alcoholic drink. Of importance because of later descent into stage three alcoholism, the experience of which forms basis for first successful works. Purchased from subject’s mother in The Bernard Shaw.
It was in fact the artist’s aunty, a premium dipso, posing as his mother to get herself stood free drinks in a bar where she had sniffed out a gullible artsy crowd. At the time She had been reported missing in her adopted home-sty of Dudley, where she had not been seen for a week. But the artist couldn’t tell the collector this.
Identifying Item C: Photograph of badly-built Snowman. In an interview subject described this photograph as his ‘aesthetic manifesto’. Subject said that the true subject of the photograph was ‘my first serious girlfriend with whom I was very much in love at the time. She is in the photograph, but she is invisible within it. She is hidden behind the snowman, her near-perfect beauty concealed and disfigured by the snowbeing’s shoddy and disintegrating facade. In my work I foreground ugliness in order to shelter beauty. The conditions are not right in our time for the revelation of beauty. We must wait, so that when we do uncover beauty, it will not be immediately appropriated and therefore inverted and destroyed. To throw the beauty-hunters off, beauty must be concealed behind a show of rottenness. Those artists who reveal beauty in our era are offering it up for sacrifice. In Byzantium, where I live, such artists are considered traitors and will be tried as such when the time comes’. Photograph taken in Cummer Graveyard January 1987. Donation to the collection from Author.
Even if he could have told the collector, the artist would not have told him that every fancy aesthetic statement he ever made was just ad copy for himself. He was aping those who gave good interview, as it seemed such an integral part of success. In the art-world you can talk like you are out of your tree all time and get admired for it instead of avoided or locked up. The artist was as loquaciously insincere on art as he was on anything else. He could believe in nothing, yet, with his eloquence, could express almost everything.
The paradox of consciousness: there is knowledge but nothing to know. The paradox of language: there are words but there is nothing to say.
Identifying Item D. Medical Report from Mater Private Hospital 2011. Clean bill of health save two minor items. Hypertension, for which 5mg Ramillo has been prescribed and is being near-effective. And a slightly overactive thyroid gland, leading to occasional diarrhea, agitation, anxiety and low-level weight loss. Thyroid to be monitored every six months. Doctor’s signature indecipherable. Stolen by a hospital porter, an obsessive fan of the subject. Later retrieved by Gardai. Then misplaced by Gardai. Bought by private treaty from nightclub bouncer on Leeson Street.
It’s fake, the artist silently shouts at the collector. The police are country’s most sophisticated thieves and counterfeiters. How can he not know that? Every painting in the national gallery was painted by a cop. The real ones are stored in Barbados, and sold off at secret billionaire auctions in Trinidad.
Identifying Item E...
But at this stage the nurse intervened by announcing it was time for rest and meds and for the collector to leave. As she opened the room door to usher him out the artist saw that there was a queue of collectors as long as an x-factor audition in Blanchardstown waiting to offer up excreta of the artist’s existence, in the hope of being the one who could claim to have found the key piece that put him back together again. Imagine what that piece would be worth at auction?
The artist wondered how long he would have to wait for the collector with whom the arrangement had been made to arrive in. To this collector he would suddenly and rapturously speak his memory, his hyper-inflating sentences of miracle recovery.
He was proud, and felt a kind of haughty pity for the collector he had just seen, and pity for all the other ignoramuses in the hall. Surely some among them would eventually realise that it was the artist who had been collecting them all along.
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