Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spanner Interlude 12: Portrait of the Death of the Artist

...from previous

Chaos Angel Spanner
Interlude 12: Portrait of the Death of the Artist

keenan. Before the Revolution, back when art was a thing, I was an Author teaching Creative Writing as my day job. One day she came into my class, bright-eyed and beautiful, like a vision in a dream.
amanda. He was my favorite professor, strange and funny, and I loved him. I majored in journalism and minored in art photography. All my professors told me I was unusually good at anything I set my mind to. My father believed in none of it; he told me I’d never amount to anything.
She put out a book. It’s sitting open on the coffee table as I write this. Desolate places, soft colors bright and dark, and she’s in every photograph in various states of undress. She could have made her body the center of attention. She did once, in a shoot she did to afford college. Every red-blooded straight male and gay woman already downloaded the whole set. Here she fades into the background at every opportunity.
I managed to catch the art establishment’s attention. I ignored or contradicted all the pinup clichés; they praised it as (I quote) “interrogating the patriarchal narrative of the female body.” I made myself part of the setting; they admired by “questioning the tyranny of identity.”

But I knew what really turned them on. I laughed in their faces while we were still free. But when the crackdown came, I gave up, gave them what they wanted, put it in a book. I took out my camera and showed them how to die.
She would have been twenty-three...

Three sisters: beautiful, brilliant, enchanting, strange. We were all weird kids, an embarrassment to our families: mine overly practical, theirs patriotic. At university people were allowed to be weird. Eventually our families gave up on us. We celebrated by going camping.
I brought my sisters, my camera, and him. We left our parents and their world behind. Now that my sisters and I were free, we went skinny-dipping and took pictures. He was shy, awkward, and all thumbs with the camera, so I reshot them. We sisters grew comfortable with each other’s bodies and our own. We fell deeply in love with each other and with nature. I knew I had to capture that love. I wanted a record of us together while we were still happy.

first sister discovering a new path
second sister charming a shy deer
third sister in a dangerous encounter with a cougar, all her senses inflamed
each of us swimming underwater among the fish
all three of us swimming together, showering in waterfalls, dancing in the rain
embracing, kissing, sharing our most intimate dreams and the deep pleasure of each other’s presence
sleeping clumped together in firefly-lit twilight, dreaming a single dream

The forest was so gorgeous and magical. It intoxicated me. Nature is the supreme artist without even trying. Human bodies are its most beautiful creation. So we went back to the forest:

a still and limpid river
an enchantingly pretty glade
the light filtered through the trees
flocks of birds taking wing
an eagle perching proudly near the top of the tallest pine
the stars and planets unobscured by city lights
my sisters and me, gliding innocent and nude through the forest like woodland spirits

I stopped seeing just trees and a river in a pretty forest; instead: shape, color, light, relationship. My sisters and I cast away our burden of social identity. We were beautiful happy animals belonging to the forest.

windblown trees dancing against bright and dark skies
beams of light illuminating the space between trees
paths of the shadows playing on the ground and against the trees
fugitive forms of shy forest animals
trails of fish gliding through the river
three young female bodies full of life, identities left behind with their clothes, merging with the forest, the river, and each other

But eventually the world we abandoned returned to reclaim us. It sent out its shadows, not to play, but to hunt.

And then all hell broke loose.
Our father had a vision, he said. He said all his comrades shared a great overwhelming vision of glorious destiny. All we had to give up was our freedom.
There was violence in the streets, a massive crackdown on unapproved thought, a new and (they claimed) moral dictatorship. They called it the liberation of the deserving, the new chosen people; they called it the freedom of the nation to achieve its (they say) eternal destiny of (their word) dominion over the world and (they keep saying this) the conquest of the infinite kingdom of space.

They called it revolution.
His vision, he said, required him to blind his own daughters. There was a spiritual vision, he said, to which God forever denied woman. He knew it was true because he read it in the holy book.

He tried to pluck the eyes out of my head. He tried to hammer the sight out of my brain. I took my camera, my vision, and my sisters, and ran.

The newer, stronger System, dedicated to the superman of profit, war, and faith: no room left in the world for the creative man—or for woman, period.
They said they had to sacrifice the world for the sake of the truth. They said they had to sacrifice us to create the new flesh. We were all too human, relics of the old world now passed. They took one of us.
They took away our freedom, our love, our very life, and left us with only the System: everything by the System, of the System, for the System—and no one else.
Have you ever seen a beautiful and gifted woman strip off her identity along with her clothes and document her body in preparation for suicide? Have you ever seen an artist make art out of her own death? I used to think suicide was crazy, but now I respect the decision to end one’s own life, and I admire those who make suicide an art. I draw the line at murder.

When the crackdown came, they narrowed my choice to one: hell or death. I resolved to die on camera.

One sister lost, one sister taken, and myself already dead by decree of the System. I knew that I had one series left in me before I too was lost. So I took my camera and went to the forest to offer my death to the world:

I face the camera nude and let the wind conceal my face, blowing away all that I am except for my staring haunted eyes
I walk down the riverbank
and into the river
and lie in the water face down, taking in water with my last breath
fighting against my own life, embracing death, letting my consciousness flicker out
my corpse, still beautiful, floating gently on the water
and deposited gently back on the shore
decaying and returning to the earth
offering my flesh for the animals to eat, giving my life to them
diminishing little by little until nothing is left
and I am no more
The Art World proclaimed these last pictures a masterpiece, the triumphant work of one who made herself immortal by dying for Art.

Art? I swear I can still hear those traitors fap.

Is she alive or dead? Is she the same bright-eyed beauty who so enchanted me the day we met? Was that her stepping into the river to die and disintegrate as her faithful camera watched on? She once told me about her fascination with death and decay.
I have no fear of death. We all die; that’s how Nature works. When I’m dead there won’t be any more me to worry, so why worry about it while I’m still alive? Death and decay are an inevitable part of life. If we look at it right, it’s every bit as beautiful as life.

One of us has no more worries, but her dreams are gone forever. For her sake, we live on, free from the tyranny of our former identity, to make her dreams a reality.
Am I alive? Is she alive? Any of us? Nobody lives forever, not even those who proclaim themselves immortal. In the long run, we are all dead.

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Copyright © 2013 Dennis Jernberg. Some rights reserved.
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[Revision 4 Final, 3/29/13: new to the Final Revision. The first version of the song lyric is here.]

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