Harboring Illusions Under the Skin
Harboring Illusions in the Sea of Information, 1989: chair, books, encaustic. Text on back of chair reads:
The air is as warm as opium; the light diffuse, perfect, flattering. Small ships drift on the glassy water, their masts listing like happy drunks, while tiny whitecaps break on the shore with tactful grace. This could be home.
Animals walk towards us as we make for land. Their calm dark eyes are sympathetic and welcoming. They offer to carry your bags and cameras up the chalky cliffs.
High on the fissured slope, one stops to scratch a message, with stone, on stone: “Art is immortal, so are these words.” As he writes, it begins to rain, and the inscription melts away. Below us, in the water, the boats capsize. There is no going back.
Gilbert, 1991: chair (legless), paint, applied text, velvet cushion, wheeled cart
Text printed on chair's seat reads:
I knew we were in trouble when Gilbert announced, I’m gonna adjust the furniture.
AdJUST it? I said. Are you crazy? You can’t tune the chairs the way you twist the dial on the radio, you idiot. But he didn’t listen. It was the chairs he was talking about, you know. He had short legs, Gilbert did. He was a small man with ugly little legs. They would dangle like a child’s during meals and attract the cat’s attention… So he got out his power saw and started cutting, but naturally, oncet he had started cutting, he couldn’t get those things even again— and by the time he was done, that chair had nothing left to stand on at all.
Well, I said, pretty disgusted. That answers THAT question anyway. What question, he snarls. Well, I reply, just what chairs would look like if our legs bent the other way.
Noir moebius, 1991-4: Galvanized steel moebius strip, text silkscreened in two directions along edges, chain.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, she turned to me and asked, “what’s someone like you doing in a story like this?” I handed her my card. About a thousand years passed, as her eyebrows worked themselves into a question to which there were at least a dozen answers-- all of them, dead wrong.
Old Saws, 1990: saws, applied text, paint. Dimensions variable.
Old saws is an expression meaning old proverbs or maxims (which sometimes offer contradictory advice). Each saw is decorated with two such sayings, one on either side. “Act in haste, repent at leisure” reverses to “A stitch in time saves nine;” “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” reverses to “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Political Science: for ABP, 1991: chair, shovel handle, globes, paint, 36” x 18” x 35”. All text has been sanded off the surface of the globes.
Higher Physics: a drawing of my father’s thoughts, 1991: chair, books, blackboard paint, chain, oilstick rendering of physics equations
The Tools of Knowledge, 1988-89: books, door handle, wooden handles each about 30" long.
Under the skin of circumstance, 1991: windows, applied text and images, chain. Three consecutive texts appear on the three pieces. First text:
In Antwerp, I lived in the Jewish quarter. Before I understood, I saw the marks a few times at a distance-- on forearms revealed by work, or raised in a gesture of greeting. Shopping for dinner one afternoon at the end of spring, I stopped at the kosher butcher for a chicken. As the old man's hands methodically trimmed away the yellow fat, I stared at the faded numbers buried in the skin on his wrist: history, written in a near-fatal language, carried alive these fifty years.
Under... detail. Text on this window:
These are things we know, or think we know: eyes are windows. Glass is a liquid. Skin, the largest organ of the body, is a map of events-- weathered, washed, burned; kissed, caressed. Although we're certain of the truth of the experiences it records (what feels good, what must be avoided) the actual sensations sneak away out of memory's reach, like a greased pig squeezed at a county fair. The face of the beloved; the smell of toast; the sound of cars on wet pavement at night, are all retrieved more easily than the feeling of skin sliding over skin.
Under... detail. Text on this window:
A bag, an envelope, a much-handled document. Like language, skin describes the flesh it clothes. Industrious Eskimos have used its phrases to form boats or baskets; the Nazis, to make lampshades. Stretched over bones in photographs of the sick or starving, it reveals the future. Some things, though, remain hidden from both camera and eyes. In the nursery, a finger lifts the skin from boiled milk; a large hand cradles your fontanelle. Behind this tiny window are difficult events, still fifty years away. History, before it becomes itself, under the skin of circumstance.
Shortest story, 1989: books, paint, applied text, 3 x 5 x 1inches. Text: "There are men out there,” she said with a kind of charred enthusiasm. “My advice to you is to put on a little lipstick and stand still so they can find you.” She got into the elevator. As the doors closed, I saw her putting on her gloves.