Thank you to Egyptian writer Youssef Rakha for giving this creative non-fiction piece a home in his Blog The Sultan’s Seal. Read on!
We congregate like The Muppets at the theatre: a first tier, a second tier, a third tier. Depending on the age of the host, the “chat” feature is either silenced or not. It is the ideal medium for someone accustomed to exercising control in real life. Yet there is always the sliding into dms. The guy who will tell you: “Why so serious? Ahhh, that hand on your face adds another layer of seduction.” It is just like high school, the kids at the back of the classroom up to no good.
The real gems, though, are the what-a-pleasure-to-meet-you-in-Zoom, I-would-like-to-have-a-meeting-with-you-sometime-early-in-the-morning types. You know it is going to be business during a pandemic, when nobody you know is getting up voluntarily at 6.30 to start a meeting at 7.30 because EST… so when you oblige, and you barely have time to shower, dress and grab your coffee, you know you will rip him a new one. Except he does it first, of course.
Before the first sip of coffee comes the sharp pain of the knife on your stomach. “You know, I am a serious author, and I like connecting with serious culture professionals. You look serious, that is why I think it is important that we establish contact.” You tell him about your accomplishments, to which he responds, “I have already asked you two questions, and yes, it does not matter if the people I want to work with do projects without importance, what really matters is that they are trying. By the way, did you know that I won the Continental award for my novel Three Sausages on a Plate? Like you, I love weaving visual arts and literature. Because once I was an artist in NYC, then I came to Canada…”
So you explain the intricacies of the art market here – fifteen years of experience – the reality check that everything begins at graduate school, when you do your MFA, and collect a clique of pals with whom you will collaborate in friendship and rivalry, the small arts centre where you will establish your connections with the curators of the bigger galleries.
You also explain that as a visible minority you are perpetually from the outside, looking in – then he references Marcel Duchamp, who retired early from the art world to play chess. Because he is bored to death, he can only come up with, “Yes, but imagine, I am not going back to school at this point in my career. That is why I decided to focus on writing. I write a lot, but unless it is very high quality I choose not to publish. Do you know Justforpricks Publishing House, the biggest in Europe – well, they have decided to publish my novel. I am such a busy man, that is why we have our meeting so early. Also, the house is nice and quiet. But the real reason I wanted to meet with you is because I also have a publishing house. We have people in South America, and Eastern Canada, but you live in the West, and that is where we would like to expand.” His voice grows even deeper; he might choke like a cat with a hairball, I can only hope. “It is a labour of love, so of course, we all do it for the love of literature.”
And then you remember Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, which you saw at the Rotterdam Museum fifteen years ago as a young mother. In his notes, Duchamp describes his piece as “hilarious.” A bride in the upper panel and her nine bachelors timidly waiting in the wings, like those importune messages sliding into your dm during the Zoom meeting, crossing the grid, transcending the confinement of Duchamp’s “grooms” cloistered between two glass panels below the “bride.”
Also known as The Large Glass, the work consists of two tall glass panels, suspended vertically. The entire composition is shattered, but it rests sandwiched in between two pieces of glass, set in a metal frame with a wooden base. The top rectangle of glass is known as the Bride’s Domain; the bottom piece is the Bachelors’ Apparatus. It consists of many geometric shapes melded together to create large mechanical objects, which seem almost to pop out from the glass and ever-changing background. There are “shots” coming from the “bachelors” – which never do reach the waiting Bride – made by dipping matches in wet paint and firing them from a toy cannon at the Glass.
The Large Glass has been called a love machine, although its upper and lower realms are forever separated from each other by a horizon designated as the “bride’s clothes”. The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified. The bachelors remain below, left with the inevitable possibility of consummating the act in solitude.
As he comes up for air, you take a deep breath:
“Well, this is something that goes unsaid, but there is the issue of unpaid labour, and also the emotional labour us women perform especially in this pandemic, sourcing the food, making sure our children’s mental health is ok, managing the household, all this, generally and at least in my case, falls on the woman. My projects evolve rather organically, and stem from friendships first, not the other way around. I thrive in ethical environments. Ethics. I know that you men have the whole world to conquer, but I am not there, for me it is ‘pleasure, not pressure’. Besides, I am nobody’s rib”.
“This sounds great, and yes, please check our website.”
“Sure I will,” you lie, then you lie some more: “It was a pleasure, and all the best with your projects. Thank you, make sure to check out my blog,” you say, not missing a beat.
He shoots back, “Sure I will, and see you at the next Zoom meet!”