Art's Materialism: A Letter to the Mulleavey Sisters (Rodarte)

by on Feb.12, 2013

Dear Kate and Laura Mulleavy,

When you speak, I can’t tell whether you are talking about yourself or your clothes. Are you the weird girls or are your clothes about weird girls from horror movies. Do the shoes bind up the collection, or do they bind up the body of the models? Is the hair-covered face your own hair-covered face, or is it the children of Japanese horror. Are you interested in their eyes or the hair? This show should take place in a velvet underground, or did you sell all the records to buy fabric?

It’s not that I want to find the answer to these questions. I’m inspired by the way your statements seem to function like and-also: tying together contradictions. Mohair-surrealism. Or rather introducing time into an image: first she has eyes then they are covered with hair. You go into the kitchen to get some sugar. There’s sugar on my lips and in my eyes.

Art animates the body, so it’s no wonder, the animated corpse is the most poetical topic in the world. It’s no wonder the clothes are the “pure” red of blood, as if the body was already in the same realm as art, as if it consisted of an “organic matter” like hair. Or slashed fabric. Or things that looked like they could be debris. But might be mohair or hair-hair. Or hare-hair.

It’s like Teemu’s observation about Cark Ashton Smith’s “literal-minded,” “nearsighted” “misreadings” of 19th Century French poetry: the literalizing translation. Thinking Baudelaire’s fabric. You say it’s the “idea of the color red…. the idea of blood-soaked cloth… a real pure color red.” The scandal of art is the scandal of an idea that is a color. The infamous “Piss Christ” (by Andres Serrano) is suspended in that sugary yellowish color. Color as an idea. Sugar as method.

In Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in my Belly,” the ants crawl over Christ’s body, searing its orifices for sugar to bring back to the nest, to make honey in the dry Mexican earth. The sugar asks us to consume Jesus’s body in an extreme form of worship: art’s transubstantiation, art’s “misreading.” It asks us to look at his beautiful body. Look at him. He is made of art. I am made in a video.

I am the passenger.
I ride and I ride through the streets of Los Angeles.
I look out the window and what do I see?
A city saturated with sugar.
A Jesus with pearls on his body.
A Juarez where women wait for the busy at night
with lipstick smeared on their lips and tar
streaking their cheeks.

A “new season” is exciting, it’s the “most nervous” because it’s “pure.” Nijinsky wrote: “One must be nervous.” I am nervous all the time but especially when I am moving through a strange place like South Korea or when I’m reading and writing. When I am reading and writing my organic matter is “slashed fabric.” I can’t tell if the blood leaks in or out. I am always a writer and a reader. Maybe I am a dancer in Los Angeles. Maybe I am a passenger and the music sounds good. I do The Twist. Violence. The Black Man. The Prose Poem. The Insect Skeleton. The Scorpion. “Christ’s Crown.” “The Parrot.” “The Bruised Model.” The Ants.

The Ants are drawn to sugar. My MFA thesis was called “Baptism by Ants.” I’m still writing it. I’m a dancer. I must be a dancer. I must have a fit. A shirt made of mohair. A hair made of mohair. I must sew my shroud in the desert where they used to set off bombs. America, I mean.

Stunned silence.
I am the passengers.
I am stunned by the window.
I don’t have a proper lineage.
I’m under the influence.
“Go home, Gunnar, just go home,” says my daughter to the TV.
She wants to be astonished.

Nijinkij writes that the purpose of art is to astonish. In his book “The Cinematic Body,” Steven Shaviro writes about the power of fascination: “Visual fascination is a passive, irresistible compulsion, and not an assertion of the active mastery of the gaze. And it is linked with the delegitimation of violence, its dissocation either from the demands of social order or from the assertion of virile (stereotypically male) power and control…”

Shaviro writes about horror movies, like you make dresses out of horror movies. Once I asked him why he never wrote about poetry, and he made a pained expression. Too many issues of taste seemed involved in talking about poetry. Shaviro would rather write about a tasteless realm, where he didn’t have to be policed by the taste-police, where he could revel in the fabric of the art. He could be astonished by the stuff of art. The blood-soaked fabric of pure red.

I keep thinking that what I love about Art is the STUFF of art the pure red of a blood-soaked dress, the “story” that never becomes a whole story, remains a half-story about a girl with a weird haircut.

It’s this… the stuff of art – ART’S MATTER – that is always policed. Kitsch is not a lack but “excessive beauty,” writes Daniel Tiffany in his forthcoming book. Art should be accessible to close-reading, should not be noisy, the author should be in control of the art matter, the audience should be in control of art’s matter. We must fear art incredibly because we must always police it.

This is especially true of poetry because poetry is supposed to be the art of the soul. But, as Shaviro points out in The Cinematic Body, there is no soul, no interior to the art’s body. It’s a fabric. Like Mo-hair. Or hare-hair. I hold a hare in my hands and my face is dripping gold on it. I’m explaining stuff to the hair. Like how I want to dance The Silver. I want to come on over and shoot the shit. Shoot art. With a rifle.


Johannes Göransson

In Patti Smith’s “Horses,” I love how she works on “the idea of the twist” – finding in that corny stuff of 1950s an ecstatic, violent energy, which Nirvana in turn gives a heroin valence in that song that begins “Come on over and do the twist/Come on over and shoot the shit.” This seems like “literalizing translations.” In her memoir, Smith talks about finding a Baudelaire coat in a salvation army in New Jersey and how putting that coat on made her into a poet. Elswhere in the memoir, Robert Maplethorpe becomes a satanic Genet-figure by painting their apartment. We want “influence” to be a grappling with essences but more often it seems to have to do with the occult power of clothes and interior decorating, objectionable, supposedly superficial “style.” That’s why I love your gauzes. That’s why I am wearing them to my funeral.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. James Pate

    Excellent post, Johannes. I really like this idea of the literalizing translation. I’ve been reading a book about the making of Bonnie and Clyde, the movie, and one of the things the makers kept bringing up with each other was how the characters in Godard films, and the new wave films in general, are always trying to turn into poets, thieves, etc., and how they wanted to make Bonnie and Clyde like that (as when we see Bonnie writing poems about their exploits, which isn’t that different from Jean-Claude Belmondo’s character staring at the Bogart movie poster in Breathless — the characters are acting their parts).

    It reminds me of Patti Smith here, how the coat turns her into a poet. The space where the everyday becomes artifice and vice versa. Performance and translation. Or in Zadie Smith’s NW, where we’re told a character dresses like a lawyer in her early thirties (and she is a lawyer in her early thirties).