Comissioned for Zoe Fothergill’s ‘Fur, Bizmuth & Spiny Oyster’. The full catalogue is on sale here.
Flint heap appears monochrome in all weather conditions, distinct from the chronochrome sea, the refractions of the oily sand and the diffuse, wild grassland. The few cars present a series of glass prisms and coloured sheens, while silhouette-gulls trace trajectories against the vast scrim of the grey sky. Flocculent clouds roll over this landscape construed as so many optical devices.
Different historical systems have left broken rows of houses to draw uncertain streets from the imposing ashen heap, cast against the metal hulks of prefabricated commercial structures and old, mossy industrial carapaces. The peculiar ambience of this area, with the heap, abandoned mills and manufacturers, lends itself to a community of peculiar New Age shops and massage parlours. The whisper movement call it The Contact Zone.
Leopold focuses on the sensation in his eyes; a saline liquid forms over the collagen and elastic fibres in natural response to the blustery wind. He carefully presses into one of the cyclic gusts as if balanced on a fragile hammock, before the direction changes again and he has to quickly adopt his posture. He breathes deeply and concentrates on the cold air filtering through the fabric of his denim trousers and vented up under his open duffle coat, which forms a series of stubborn buttresses.
His destination has a clean, almost corporate, facade; most of the other businesses in this area, the ones Leopold is more familiar with, trade in twee tokens of Eastern Spiritualism or cornball mysticism. Those who told him about this place said it was ‘different’. Leopold catches his reflection in the window. His bulky coat accentuates his thin, sinuous body. His face is drawn and washed-out. He is full of self doubt. The window shakes as someone else enters the building and an armature slams the door – his reflection palpitates.
Wanda was up early, ruminating on her upcoming presentation. She set up an independent Salon because she felt that bigger institutions were introducing too many rules and principles for the pursuit of corpuscular fantasies. Will the subtlety of my award-winning work be recognised by people outside the academy? She sat, looking momentarily gormless – concepts about freak tissues and defiled secretions could prove too unstable outside a vetted discourse. Maybe that is good.
The appearances of the small group of sixteen people who turn up later please Wanda. They look meek and attentive. Having worked as a lecturer, Wanda is confident and determined not to reduce the complexity of the subject matter. She rushes through a coarse welcome and introduction, but then slows, becoming calm as she opens out the main content.
“Listening to someone talk about being an organ can sometimes seem as pointless as listening to someone tell you about a random dream. You think, ‘yeah, the experience may have been something, but why are you telling me this?’
“Patty Bernstein’s recollections always fascinated me, right from the beginning. The first organ she made was pure, smooth brain matter at its core. For those of you who are new to this, something that is smooth is something that has effectively been standardised by the person imagining it. A functioning human brain in the material world has many different parts. It is not smooth. And each human brain varies; it has specific, singular details. So we say it is striated. Smooth and striated are the two aspects of this discipline that always have to be balanced, whatever it is you are creating. As a general rule, beginners start with smooth creations, then progress towards the striated. This is because smooth mental objects are more efficient and at first people do not have the capacity for more than about three heterogeneous parts.
“Patty’s brain matter blended into a rich pink flesh and was encapsulated in a thick human-like skin. It looked like a drooping, soft, pink watermelon. For your information, Patty added two striated elements to the surface of the skin, two uneven and misshapen nipples. She said they were a testament to the uniqueness of her own body. What is interesting here, however, is the blending of the smooth brain and smooth flesh. That is not standard practice.”
Wanda looked at the group to see if there was any reaction to her ironic understatement. A couple of people gave vague nods and smiled.
“If it was done, this blending of different smooth matters, it would probably be done with predictable results. For Patty however, everything was about finding difference. She said that the flesh and brain fibres mixed in such a way that where they blended there was neither brain nor flesh anymore, but a new kind of organic material that could grow like synapses in the brain, but in a much more physical way. As she imagined running her hand over the skin, parts of the flesh began to grow in lumps that seemed to mirror her own hand, touching. She said that the point in the organ that had once been about 40% brain and 60% flesh seemed most efficient, so the ‘hand’ pressed out from a relatively deep position. It was like a baby pressing feet against its mother’s stomach. All that surfaced were blunted pressure marks.
“When she then tried stimulating the nipples she realised that some of the brain-flesh was pressing sharply against the surface. Fibrous pink hairs broke through, giving way to spiny, pink tubes. A secretion started to emerge from the tubes. She didn’t realise at first, she thought it was a kind of sexual mucous, but it was actually part of the inner brain being extruded. The organ was purifying itself.”
Leopold shuffled in his seat. The talk made him feel awkward, like he was being forced to enter a hostile world of new thoughts and ideas. He looked around and noted that the audience was predominantly female. Were they finding this as uncomfortable as he was? He watched Wanda carefully. She was plain, perhaps, and probably 20 years older than he was. She spoke eloquently and he felt moved by her confidence.
Over the next weeks Leopold attended more classes and tried hard to make sense of the subject. His interest in Wanda grew and he eventually found reason to talk to her. Wanda was intrigued by the young man who attended so regularly, his deference and submissiveness both drew her in and repelled her.
The first evening that Leopold came back to her apartment Wanda was in a belligerent mood. She made food and then served herself a huge, unmanageable portion and gave Leopold a tiny, insulting morsel. Wanda was testing them both. Feeling a little embarrassed, but sensing Leopold’s need for her to assert herself, Wanda talked briskly about how the senses had been divided along gender lines. Sight and sound were often associated to the male domain – she said – touch, smell and taste with the female world. At times, a woman’s touch had been considered evil. Witches smelled foul and cooked up strange concoctions in their cauldrons. Women had once been thought to possess a dangerous greediness that they were expected to stifle – never to want food, while being starved. Looking at their plates, the hungry Leopold asked if it wasn’t the case that men just naturally ate more than women. When he saw how delicate Wanda’s mood was he conceded that he understood the point she was making. He finished quickly. Wanda was still eating well after the food had gone cold.
Over time Wanda softened and Leopold grew in confidence. Leopold stopped attending the classes because ‘corpuscular fantasies’ had become a contentious subject between them. He questioned the extent to which a discipline dedicated to imagining new bodily experiences should be allowed to replace real contact between people. Sometimes Wanda would say that he was naive, that the world could not be changed, that natural states could not be revived from the past. She argued that ‘corpuscular fantasies’ were the only way touch could be meaningful in such a technological age. A deprived society needed the remote stimulation the whisper movement provided; Wanda’s field signified the next stage of development. At other times, Wanda would grow silent and sit staring into space. The sanctum of their relationship felt remote from the outside world.
Occasionally, when Leopold felt coldness between them, Wanda would surprise him and open up. Despite his suspicions about her specialism, he was happy to be told about her own fantasies. Wanda felt comfortable with Leopold, his company and his physical presence seemed to relax her and help her imagination. A new set of ideas opened up for her in these spontaneous moments, unfolding through the gentle fabric of a story.
This one – Wanda said one time, looking at Leopold – is very playful. Imagine the heat of a summer day and beryl-coloured water. Buoyant balloon-like forms wobble and buckle, displacing the water and creating ‘giggly’ ripples and waves. You can run your hand on the moist pink surface of the forms and press inside the slippery holes. With each touch you feel a stinging, electric delight. Patiently rub them; slow if there is need to. Then, when you can’t do anything but keep going, forget yourself completely and be absorbed by it. Matter and membranes pulsate through the corpuscle, a circuit of invisible energies in pure flux. Wanda concluded in a hushed tone – Not to see, just to be.