HEAVEN AND HELL BY JOHN CALCUTT 2008HEAVEN AND HELL by John Calcutt
Hell, according to Jean-Paul Sartre, is other people.
Glasgow, where Raquel Mendes studied for her MFA, used to be home to a chain of stores called What Everyone Wants. Originally (thirty years ago), these stores were called What Every Woman Wants. In 2003 the chain collapsed: it became the store that nobody wanted.
What do all those others want? How can each one of us ever know? How can we recognise and respond to the needs and desires of others? And how do those invisible needs and desires relate to our own?
Two young women are alone in a white, almost featureless room. They argue and plead with each other (one argues, the other pleads). There are silences. They gesture and remonstrate. Anger and frustration erupt in a physical skirmish: there is the brief flash of a fight. One of them kicks the wall. I know this room. The hole in the wall is still there. It has now become one of the features of the room. And much of this because of something to do with a cigarette. I thought I knew these young women, but I am shocked. How much of this is acting, and how much real? Violence, I have heard it said, is essentially a form of the quest for identity.
I cannot pretend that I do not know Raquel Mendes, yet I cannot claim that I really understand her. What would it mean to make such a claim? We have spent time together in those featureless white spaces of the studio and the gallery, discussing her videos and photographs, her ideas for future works, and her writing, trying to find that place where her mind, my mind and her work coincide. During such moments each of us speaks thoughts that are surrounded by a void: many things remain unsaid or unsayable, inhibited by the ghostly presence of unknown and unknowable listeners, readers, or viewers. On a visit to Lisbon I had hoped to meet Raquel again. We spoke on the telephone a couple of times – me in my hotel, she at her home - but the timing was all wrong, the distances too great, and the fates indifferent to our plans. What we thought we wanted was not to be.
Hello. Do we know each other? Hello! Is it me you're looking for? Do you know the song? Because I wonder where you are, And I wonder what you do. Lionel Ritchie. Did you see the video, with the blind female art student modeling a head in clay, a head that turns out to be the singer’s? Amazing. Unbelievable. “This is how I see you”, the blind girl says to the singer. Between him and her there is now a thing, a clay head, a thing that gives concrete form to their invisible desires. This thing will make it possible for them to initiate a relationship. For the relation between two people is always conducted with reference to something, some item. And in crossing between them, this item is a kind of offering, a gift. But the gift is not innocent: it demands a response; it entails an obligation to reciprocate. The gift is, in truth, an instrument of power, a discrete form of violence. The gift may be offered to the other, but it is also addressed to the precarious balance of power between giver and receiver. You have to be cruel to be kind, and kind to be cruel. Appealing to Justice will not help: Justice is duplicitous. Justice may offer her scales, but she also carries a sword because she understands the value of violence, and, although she is not blind, she masks her eyes because she does not want to look. The scales will tip one way and then the other for all eternity. There will be no Last Judgement. Hello! Is there anybody there?
How often do we speak of nakedness as if it were a kind of truth, the naked truth? Why do those who abandon clothes to pursue their leisure and recreation call themselves naturists? Are nakedness, nature and truth inseparable? Stripping naked, Georges Bataille wrote, “offers a contrast to self-possession, to discontinuous existence, in other words. It is a state of communication revealing a quest for a possible continuance of being beyond the confines of the self. Bodies open out to a state of continuity through secret channels ....” In nakedness we dream of reunion with all that is non-self. You and I and nature will fuse into a singular truth. Paradise Regained.
pre·lap·sar·i·an (prē'lăp-sâr'ē-ən) adj. Of or relating to the period before the fall of Adam and Eve. Nakedness here is self-consciousness, and the penalty is human conflict. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
Paradise Lost. Let’s not pretend that we know and understand each other’s needs, wants and desires, but let’s live with the consequences of our distance and differences. It’s all we have.
If paradise is half as nice as heaven that you take me to
Who needs paradise, I'd rather have you.