I got those negatives back. I am very naked in those photographs, very much the way I felt when I took them. I still don’t know what their function is. I evaluate them with a cold eye, conceptually but most of all as visual objects and I am confused. The immediate problem, and I am tired of my artistic problems, with evaluating is that I distance myself from the photos and try to fit them into my original project outline. What am I looking at? A series of nudes in the tradition of nudes in general, self-portraits and what those photographs reveal about how I wish to be seen, how I fall into the trap of displaying myself as an object. Ouch. That could have been a line my tutor would have said in the Art School. I wish I could just forget and get on with my life but in my mind I still find myself there, suffocating. I hate the language the Art School taught me to think in. ‘Evaluation’ and ‘project outline’, such tiresome words. They were so literal about art. It infuriated me.
The bulge, the love handles, my non-existent waist, other disproportions, my odd boobs and the cellulite. No one can really see all that because of the way I have twisted and turned my body. What is visible is the bareness I don’t show my face so, like burying my face in the sand, I feel safe because I don’t think I am really visible. I probably should ask questions about what they say about me. These ones bring home made bourgeois erotica to my mind. I am capable of such stinging criticism! This is what they would however say in Art School. I just cannot get out of there.
There are questions that I ask when I look at those photographs but which I do not want to reveal. There is only so naked I am willing to be.
It was Anita Brookner who taught me that small, non-epic incidents and words have defining, if not tragic consequences in people’s lives. She didn’t teach me that in the way that it would have been something new. I knew it and had experienced it but couldn’t talk about it. I sensed that it was not acceptable to see these things. But she gives them an importance in her stories which is in the end terrifying.
I had been awful to Antoine. I had felt hurt for a long time. I felt I wasn’t valued but taken for granted. I suspected that my friends didn’t really like me but just tolerated me. Everybody else seemed to have this ‘hurrah’- crowd of people around them but I felt alone and unsupported in the things that I did. Looking back I can see I was approaching the breaking down point. Antoine said a couple of thoughtless things- or he slipped out what he really thought about me, I don’t know, I cannot see- and it hit me badly. I was not able to hide anymore that I was hurt and angry. I was terrible to him, uncivil and rude. I could see that it made him tense and I am ashamed to admit that it brought me tinged pleasure. I was done being nice and at least I existed for him now. I apologised to him one night. He asked me if everything was ok and I told him that I felt like I was breaking down. He said that he is sorry to hear that I feel this way, asked me what was bothering me and if I wanted to talk about it. I couldn’t, I didn’t know how. I was relieved that he had forgiven me but was nearly as short in my replies as I had been before apologising.
One other time I mentioned to Antoine that I was having a hard time with my flatmates. He said ‘Ok, talk me through it.’ (Seriously. What a brute.) I brushed it off by mumbling something. The situation in our flat was already then nightmarish but I didn’t know how to talk about it. It was a time in my life that I was just coming out of the harmful friendship with Tom and being bullied by Martin. I was battered and had learned to survive by hiding, keeping myself to myself. Hearing people talk about situations in their lives from their perspective, unabashedly subjective points of views baffled me. I envied them because speaking in general caused me a lot of stress. I was afraid that I wouldn’t get the words out and that I wouldn’t make any sense. I was surprised by what Antoine said and was immediately overwhelmed by my inability to tell him what I was going on. I felt locked inside myself.
I regret all this although I know that I wasn’t able to do any better. It causes me quite some anguish that I cannot do any better. Antoine in a man. There has been only three or four brief occasions in my life that I have felt understood and valued by a man and therefore felt safe. Most of the time I find them unnerving or threatening. Realising this I feel despair. It has had consequences on my life and I don’t know how to change.
I started reading Jean Rhys’ ‘Voyage into the Dark’ maybe about a year ago. It was given to me by a man who seemed eager to introduce me to literature about fallen women. I only started to read it because Tytti said she admired her. I didn’t get too far. At that time I read to escape and Jean Rhys’ stories are brutal with their realism, without redemption. The introduction however proved to be a revelation. I hesitate to write such strong words but I don’t know how else to describe it. It freed me. In the introduction it says that Jean Rhys suffered much in her life and essentially wrote to make sense of what had happened to her. That is what I had started doing. My heart bleeds and I write with that blood.
I try not to hear the mocking questions in my head, sometimes in the voice of Sheila, sometimes of Tom and very often voices of my tutors too. That moment of revelation was a moment of peace as well. I wasn’t the only one who ‘made work’ (how dire is the Art School language?) haunted by their own experience in life. It was obvious that I would come to this point. In the last months of Art School I had decided or come to a conclusion, however one wishes to see these things, that life leads art. It was an anti-thesis to the insincerity of conceptual art.
Not a day goes by that I would not worry about Europe. How is it possible that so close to the WW2 the far-right has managed to normalise their language and masquerade their agenda behind clever branding? How is it possible that people, white working class men namely, are so stupid and uncivil, without empathy to join this mob? I know obviously how it has happened. My questions are rhetorical. I am terrified of the rise of the far-right, of them uniting across Europe as they are planning to. I feel powerless. If I shout out on social media I will only preach to the choir, it won’t reach to those who are swaying in their opinion and vote. I don’t know what to do. My calm existence, the haven of my room, my daily routines and pleasures. Will history judge me for this?
Every now and then I hear Tom say ‘The middle class always think they are more damaged (psychologically) than they actually are’. I cannot remember what I had said to him but he said this and thus sought to undermine my experience knowing that I had been anorexic when I was 13 and plunged into such a serious depression that I started getting symptoms of psychosis when I was 18. He also knew that my sister had struggled with insomnia and depression as well as a period of drug abuse. My brother’s suicide attempt had happened maybe 6 months ago which he was well aware of.
He constantly tried to make me say certain things by asking leading questions and using other clever tricks. I didn’t allow him to apply his views on me but corrected him in one way of another, trying to be as subtle as he was. It still disrupted the careful flow of the conversation and he was noticeably annoyed and disapproving. But I didn’t ever feel that I had defended myself strongly enough. The attempt to manipulate me, twist my will and my words, violated me. It left a wound that still howls.
I need rest, beauty, pleasure, a day of being wrapped in silk, drinking coffee and wine, eating nectarines, apples, figs, cheese, olives, chocolate. I want to forget all that rubbish and pain. I started pouring myself a bath but began to feel unsure about it straightaway. Good God, I am so tired of myself, of my mood swings, my inability to decide and to focus. I am fed up with being responsible and treating a part of myself as if I was a misbehaving child or a moody teenager. I had that bath anyway. I lie there, in foetus position on the bottom of the bathtub, rose oil shimmering on the water. I couldn’t relax but it felt good to feel warmness around my body, on my skin.
*some names have been changed