Archives for the month of: August, 2013


André Vida is a Hungarian American saxophonist, composer and lyricist living in Berlin. Between October and November 2011, Vida was ensconced in a grueling endurance performance with fellow saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc. Except Moondoc was suspended out of a housing block window, in a film by the artist Anri Sala. Every day, at London’s Serpentine Gallery, Vida would improvise maddening scores, with short bursts of respite between immersive plays. Human, machine, instrument: how to be different when every day appears to be the same.

Shumon Basar:         When Anri Sala approached you, how detailed did he describe what he wanted you to do in his piece?

André Vida:         Clara Meister originally approached me about performing Anri’s piece 3,2,1 for her Soundfair series in Berlin. The premiere was exhilarating, and in the improvised solo section at the end of the piece I went into an hour-long saxophone trance. After that I was very curious about working more at the limits of my own endurance. There was clearly something in the air, because Anri approached me several weeks later asking if I would be interested in performing the piece nine times a day over the course of his seven week long Serpentine Gallery show. I was intrigued, scared, and overwhelmed and am still a bit shocked that I actually made it.

SB: Did you do any mental or physical preparation?

AV: First I thought of all of the things that I could have done in my life before that moment that would have made me prepared. Like yoga, jogging, pilates. Then I cried. And I started eating. I ate and ate and ate all the time telling myself when this is all over I will do those things that I never do, so that if the opportunity should arise again, I will be ready. But now as I lie here in my bed in Berlin eating, I realize I’m probably not going to do any of those things. So I started training a combination of Grinberg therapy, playing a lot of sax, and kissing. In the process I became very aware of my physical habits with the saxophone and more importantly how to move and adjust to deal with potential pain and stress. Finally when I got to London I met an incredible acupuncturist, Karen Cohen, who is largely responsible for getting me through it all.

SB: Can you remember the first performance of the first day?

AV: There was the gala opening on a Friday night and there was so much anticipation in the unexpectedly very warm air. Then on Saturday morning in an almost empty gallery I found myself struggling. As I recall the first official performance of the first day was slightly dull and regurgitated. My journal from Day 1/Cycle 1 reads  ‘This improvisation lacks an energy contour, a simple container. 400 to go! Ha – if I think like that I will never make it. My back is tight and fluid like a heated river. Where are the fish?’

SB: You’d play for 25 minutes and then have 25 minutes off until the next performance. What would you do in that time between?

AV: After 25 minutes of blowing air through a saxophone in an unheated gallery (with holes in the wall) my mind and body were often somewhere else. And then I’d find myself walking into the heated lobby of the Serpentine feeling quite vulnerable. My typical routine was to go to my sax room, take my instrument and wireless mic off then the layers of hunting clothing. Then if I needed a table to work on, I’d walk around the building to a second space. I have a huge stack of drawings from those in-between times. Anri described them as ‘anti-scores,’ which is fitting because they are not tools of intention as much as internalizations of the saxophone language I was living in.

SB: Were you writing stuff down over the course of the months you were playing? What kind of stuff was it?

AV: Yes, I kept a journal full of little notes about the performances and daily details. The following is an excerpt from Day 6/Cycle #5:

‘At the solo section two older women start talking loudly to the guard asking this and that. They feel so empowered and oblivious. If aliens were to come to earth, these women would first try to eat them. Some kind of mundane baked alien casserole gratin and me on the outskirts talking to myself.’

SB: How difficult is it to keep something like this from being repetitious or boring? What are the mechanisms for relentless invention?

AV: I am not sure how much I can reveal about the mechanisms as I don’t want to understand too much about them myself.  In a broad sense I am continuously experimenting with amnesia. How flexibly can I move between my collective and specific memories? How can I forget what is about to happen? I have so many techniques for getting lost, so many friends who are experts, and so much of that aesthetic is hardwired into our collective sense of compelling performance.

SB: Is there epiphany in routine? Or is epiphany actually dull?

AV: When I am touring around the world one of the most exciting parts of the performance is packing up my gear after the concert. Some of my most profound epiphanies occur in the larger cycles of a process and within the routine of these 403 twenty-five minute performances the labyrinth of perspective was fully lit. Some of the epiphanies were languorous and steady, but dull is not the word I would use.SB: You told me that Samuel Beckett and Morton Feldman are important to you. In what ways?

AV: Samuel Beckett taught me how to win half a cup of free tea from a full-breasted waitress, so I am forever indebted to him. His sense of timing is so distinct and I often wonder how he transmits that through words on a page. Morton Feldman on the other hand… there is a delicate sadness in his music that I gravitate towards. The seemingly endless feel in his works also fascinates me. There are some composers who write 100 year-long pieces and others whose music occupies 100 years in ten minutes. Feldman is both.

SB: And Marina Abramovic, ‘the god mother of performance art’ Like?

AV: I would rather call her the Goddess. The range of work itself, the risks she takes and her ongoing engagement with endurance are a source of inspiration for me.

SB: Would you fantasize about being elsewhere when you were performing in the gallery? Places you’ve never been before or familiar places?

AV: Yes. I fantasized and researched about the history of The Serpentine Gallery. I would imagine the natural flow of human motion in the rooms when it was a tea house. When I peered out through the holes in the walls I imagined past pavilions and experimented with my own designs. The pavilion that I designed in my time there was made out of white cotton and derived its structure from moving fans. I found myself inside that pavilion from time to time altering its structure with the wind from my saxophone.

SB: Did you continue to play in your dreams at night?

AV: No. I did not dream so much over the period of the show. It was more as if my entire life was a dream. There is a drink I had once in Brooklyn called Morir Sonando which translates to ‘dying in your dreams,’ and this performance more than any reminded me of the taste. Kind of synthetic orange cream powder with seltzer water. Now two weeks have past since I returned to Berlin and anytime I pick up my saxophone I smell oranges.

SB: Can you remember the last performance, Number 403? How did you make it definitive?

AV: I was very over-excited and spent almost the entirety of the performance on my knees or with my back on the floor. It was very emotional although I don’t know which emotion or story I was telling, as if the accumulated weight of the experience was releasing itself through me. I felt like the lit end of a portal. The audience clapped which was the first time throughout the entire 403 concerts that a group of people clapped together for me. I didn’t expect that at all and didn’t even know how to respond to it. As I was walking away, I heard this tremendous clapping and wasn’t able to stop the routine my feet were so used to, so I kind of turned          halfway and lifted my saxophone in the air and my feet just kept on walking.

SB: When did you know this whole endurance was truly over?

AV: Four nights before the final performance around midnight a gang of hooligans on the street pulled out a tenor sax. They were drunk laughing and playing around with it and for a second I wondered if they had broken into the serpentine and stolen my baby. They started playing the sax intro to ‘Baker Street’ and I knew the cosmos was calling me home.


Space, the final frontier? For artist, author, and “experimental geographer” Trevor Paglen, it’s just become home to his orbital project, The Last Pictures. Commissioned by New York’s Creative Time, Paglen has, courtesy of a television satellite called EchoStar XVI, sent 100 etched images to spin round the earth potentially for billions of years, or until the sun collapses. Shumon Basar asks Paglen about what it means to prepare for post-human time, the language of non-human communication and the ways we have represented ourselves, from the caves of Lascaux to Voyager, to ourselves in images.

SHUMON BASAR: So, Trevor, your Last Pictures are about to go into space. How does it feel after researching and preparing the project for so many years?

TREVOR PAGLEN: I’m in Kazakhstan right now and the launch is tonight. I’m amazed that this project has actually happened. Mostly I’m humbled by the amount of work so many people did to make The Last Pictures a reality. One of the most amazing things about this project is how many people from different fields, from anthropologists to aerospace engineers, dropped what they were doing to work non-stop nights and weekends to make it all happen.

SB: When it dawned on you that you would be sending something up that would be there for billions of years, what was your first instinctive idea?

TP: The Last Pictures imagines a distant or not-too-distant future where there are no humans left on earth and the spacecraft forming a ring around the planet are the longest-lasting traces of our presence. From the beginning of the project, it was going to be a meditation on the fact that we know full well how we are making the planet uninhabitable to ourselves, but are going ahead with it anyway. The project evolved into something more impressionistic than that, but I think that theme is still
very central.

SB: What changed?

TP: One of the main changes was the inclusion of images of people. For several years, I was convinced that there should be no images depicting human figures. The reasoning was that the project was in no way meant to be a “portrait of humanity” or anything like that. The Last Pictures was meant to tell a story about what humans did to the earth’s surface, biosphere, climate, and so on, not a grandiose representation of humankind. After looking at dozens of ideas for the collection that had no humans, I realised that no matter what you show, if you don’t include images of humans you end up with something that looks like a very clichéd apocalyptic narrative. But the decision to include humans then came with a different “rule”, which was that I wanted to locate the people depicted in each image and tell something about their specific story. Those stories are collected in the book.

SB: Carl Sagan’s Golden Record of 1974 is still careering beyond our solar system as part of Voyager’s epic voyage. Do you remember when you first heard of, or saw, this enigmatic object, and what it said to
you then?

TP: I don’t remember when I first heard about the Golden Record, but I’ve spent an enormous amount of time studying it and learning about their decision-making process. Before I really started looking closely at it, I thought the Golden Record was a saccharine piece of feel-good multiculturalism, which it is. But as I’ve looked at it more and more, I’ve come to see it as an extremely strange artefact. They had very sincere ambitions to represent specific things about humanity to an alien
audience. But images don’t make scientific or even reasonable arguments. I think there’s a lot to learn about how images do and do not function by looking at the Golden
Record’s contents.

SB: One hundred black and white images constitute The Last Pictures. Can you describe some of the categories you have ended up with, and if they portray life on earth optimistically or not?

TP: There isn’t really any effort to portray life on earth, so much as to look at some of the ways that humans have transformed what the earth itself is. Some images depict things like genetic engineering (a fruit fly that’s been genetically modified to have legs on its face instead of antennae; cloned cows), transformations to the earth’s surface (hydraulic mining, railroads), and climate change (melting glaciers, tsunamis). But the collection as a whole is much more impressionistic, I think.

SB: You have said that the cave paintings at Lascaux were crucial in the development of your own “cave paintings for the future”. In what way?

TP: My research team and I always understood that The Last Pictures would be a cultural object radically detached from history. We spent a lot of time looking at messages or images created for the distant future, like the Golden Record and various design proposals to mark nuclear waste sites for thousands of years. The art historian/theorist Yates McKee really got me thinking about cave paintings, which are images from the distant past that have become similarly torn apart from history, floating through time in much the same way that The Last Pictures will. I think cave paintings teach us a lot about what images actually are. They are incredibly slippery things. A lot of people would strongly agree with the idea that cave paintings speak to us, but it’s not at all clear what they say.

SB: How much has cinema played a role in subconsciously influencing what you have done? By this I mean outer space is somewhere none of us have ever visited but space feels less strange to us than many places on Planet Earth.

TP: Cinema influenced The Last Pictures very explicitly. Towards the beginning of the project, we imagined the object as a kind of archive, but as we worked with the materials and images more, that evolved. I started to understand The Last Pictures as a kind of silent film for eternity. An
enormous amount of effort went in to the formal relationships and montage effects from one image to the next, the rhythm of the sequencing, and the motivic
and thematic relationships throughout
the collection.

SB: Recently, you described The Last Pictures as “a meta-gesture about the failure of meta-gestures”. Throughout the whole project, it seems that you have constantly battled with the absurdity – or even futility – of what you were trying to do. At which point did you make peace with yourself and what you were conjuring, with all these different people?

TP: I’m not sure I’ve actually ever made peace about that, to tell you the truth. I think that The Last Pictures is on one hand a deeply nonsensical project, and I mean that quite literally. The Last Pictures is going to a space and time where there literally is no human sense (outer space; the distant future). At the same time, I felt an enormous responsibility to do the project in the most ethical way I could. I think that contradiction is very fundamental to what the project is.

SB: Obama has made it clear that the
frontier of space is no longer a priority for debt-ridden America, the way it once was during the anxieties of the Cold War era. Now, that race seems to be run by China, India and any other wannabe economic powerhouse. Would it be fair to say that
s/he who owns space travel owns the future down here?

TP: I think that space travel is largely symbolic, bound up with notions of “progress” and the like. There’s really no point to human spaceflight other than its symbolism. It’s enormously expensive and humans can’t do anything in space that robots can’t do better. Although human spaceflight isn’t practical in any way, it makes perfect sense that nations like China and India are pursuing it for that symbolic significance. Having said that, dominance of space is hugely important to the American military, and you don’t see much talk about cuts to the largely secret programs that are consistent with that goal.

SB: Werner Herzog, that fearless explorer of the human soul, conducted a conversation with you in New York about your project. How did he react to The Last Pictures and did you manage to convince him?

TP: Herzog is a big fan of the project, which is why he came out to New York to kick-off the project with me. But he had some quibbles with some of the images I selected. One image shows a smiling child in an American internment camp. Herzog thought that was what he called a “cheap shot”. I disagree – for me it’s an utterly horrifying image precisely because it seems to depict the normalisation of something so inhuman. Every person who set out to do a project like this would arrive at something different, which is something we agreed on. There is no “right” way to undertake such
a project.

The Last Pictures by Trevor Paglen, is published by University of California Press and Creative Time Books.



This bald spot. Just here. On my chin.  Let me point it out for you. Look. This fallow, little patch. A negative island, the world’s smallest crop circle, a sign from the alien trapped inside me. This question mark. It’s here to stay. A question of time. Fucking inevitable, you say? These yellowing stains that cling to my teeth despite the computer generated animations that fill my mouth with marauding invaders whose defeat is guaranteed. By this new mouthwash. These cavities I hide from myself. Gums. What kind of word is ‘gums’? This kind of blood from that kind of electric toothbrush. Sent it back to Amazon three times. We’re sorry, Sir, it was a faulty batch. I misread the email. It said, ‘You are a faulty bitch’. And I complained but they put me on hold. I’m still holding. It was a question of time, of waiting. Inevitable, I assumed. These nostrils that slowly refuse to intake air. At the rate that I want. With the capacity I need. Those nasal sprays. Otrivine. O-tri-vine. I say it as I inhale. And think about the phrase, ‘The Last Breath’. Will I inhale it or exhale it. Will I have a choice. Does anyone. And that other phrase. ‘The tunnel after the end of the light’. These eyes. Somebody told me that, ‘Your eyes are the only part of your body that does not age’. He meant it poetically, eyes and the soul, that kind of stuff. But he was wrong. He didn’t see with my eyes, the eyes I have now, who stubbornly refuse to see the way I once did. Acuity unintact. These specks that sometime float around in front of my sight like the stuff before dinosaurs arrived. This soul, your soul. On this earth. Does David Bowie’s green eye age quicker than his blue eye? Perhaps. It’s a question of time being able to get revenge. On me. On us. Everything with time is inevitable. These white hairs. Their nylon texture. They way they fall and then refuse to fall when I want them to. I’ve kept count of every single one. I take pictures. I date them. It’s time posed as a question through me. Inevitable, my mother says. This silhouette of my body that won’t fit those skinny jeans. They won’t go on, those skinny jeans are for someone that isn’t me. I fucking hate him. The skinny jeans can’t get past the lumps that seem to be growing on existing lumps. That radio programme said lumps, they’re early warning systems. Listen to your body, the radio spooked, and I listened. I’m still holding on for customer services. This holding music by Simply Red. His fucking grin. Neither question nor answer. Whether age is a number or a state of mind or giving in to Simply Red. These aches. These aches that have become me. And I in turn become the aches. As well as these vitamins, these medicines. All the saved spam mail trying to sell me cut-price Viagra. If it’s just a question of time, of age, of inevitability, I should ask my friends to buy me a crate of the stuff. Of all the things to fail, what a thing to fail. It even happened to Ted Danson. I saw him on TV, that show about the writer who can’t write. Blocked. Ted Danson says, ‘I used to enthral. Now I disappoint.’ Cheers Ted. It’s a question of inevitability, of biological determinism, of your cells going kamikaze. My cells. These white cells. I’m sending mine back to Amazon. Don’t tell me the guarantee has expired. Machines expire. Food expires. Science tells me I’ve been propped up by artificial means, like Walt Disney’s cryogenic body, and now. This piece of technology. These circuits and valves. They can’t be saved by my mid-life Porsche, my scrawny, scrapped back ponytail, greased with organic beeswax, and this girl everyone mistakes for my fucking daughter. She isn’t. I’m not. We’ll be happy. Once I get past this hump. And so I watch the white ice caps melt, the sheaves of snow crash into the sea, water levels rise inch by lethal inch until we’re drowning, not swimming. And the errant patch on my face has grown and grown to cover the surface of the world, drowning it. This world. This fucked up world, my children one day will say. Hello. This is customer services. How can we help you? I see. The thing is, sir. You have over-extended your extended built in obsolescence. No sir. You can’t be fixed. Company policy states it’s a question of timing. These things are inevitable. Happy Birthday. Goodbye. 

Published in Tank, Spring 2013



She has eyes, liquid gold, and an argot just this side of human. She lisps. Her hair lacquers in vertical, electrostatic lines, a sound of silvered solar cells. That skin. He spent so long on that, her freckled skin, partly dreaming and wholly scheming, calculating the exact moment a touch would register on the inside of her heart; that infernal contraption that insists on having a mind of its own. “Not my mind,” he cursed. He curses a lot—at the sun and the moon, at the gods of invention and genetic coding. He curls his fists around her wrists.


There’s a fantasy that’s stuck around for millennia. Man creates life, without women coauthoring. A non-sexual birth, in Petri dishes or super-charged subterranean chambers or cosmic alignments. Artificial Intelligence, clones, immortals, exceptions. Post-humans engineered devotedly by humans, blessed by the holy conjunction of hubris and science. Note: many of these mutant manifestations aspire to recreate woman, anew. Mary Shelley may well have fabricated the literary Dr Frankenstein so that he could piece together his ugly, unloved, monster-son; but when men method their own ungodly Creation Myth, it is often a “She” they conjure: daughter, lover, wife. Saviour.


Cinema—that 20th century art form for the desiring masses—provides one of the most fertile settings for history’s enduring experiments with man-made women. What is the appropriate noun? Female automata, gynoid, cyborg, actroid. All have featured prominently in their silver skin on the silver screen. These modernist manifestoes reach backwards into time as much as leer into the future. The word “robot” is attributed to Karel Čapek in his 1921 play, R.U.R. But as early as 1st century AD, the ancient Greek mathematician and inventor, Hero, described animistic machines in his treatise, Pnematica and Automata. They reappear through Ancient China, Middle Ages Islamic dynasty and 18th century French courtly life (in the guise of a mechanical duck that excretes). By the time cinema establishes itself as the dominant entertainment pastime, Freud’s theories of the unconscious have flourished as virally. At the core of one of his most famous essays, “Das Unheimliche” (“The Uncanny”), is Olympia, a mute female automaton mistaken for living woman. ETA Hoffman’s story, The Sandman (1840), embodies, for Freud, the essential components of modern male fetishism and pathology—with mechanical Olympia beating as its heart and hard-on. So, let me draw a personal, selective genealogy of some of cinema’s most telling female automata, androids, cyborgs and gynoids. If, as Freud postulated, “fantasy realized is nightmare,” then what nightmares are these male-made synthetic women trying to fantasize away?


She is a voluptuous metallic cast of a girl, as if naked, expressionless and embellished by Art Deco extrusions. Rotwang manages to transform her, with rings of electricity, into Maria’s evil-double. Soon, she unleashes chaos on the city, driving men to murder, out of delirious lust for her. The city is Metropolis, the eponymous title of Fritz Lang’s 1927 dystopian masterpiece, and Maria (who is also referred to as Maschinenmench, Machine Man) is the first robot depicted in cinema. It becomes she. She seems to incite urban havoc while at the same time is the diabolical product of the same modern forces that made Metropolis the modern city par excellence. Steel, electricity, systems, seduction. Maria’s beauty bypasses the rationality of male workers and collectivizes them (on the 10th anniversary of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution). Ultimately, false Maria is tied to a stake, set afire and gradually transforms back into her hard, robot form. Real Maria, a cipher of kindness and soft femininity, has been returned from a nightmare where she was a kind of Kali: destroyer of all worlds, and of men.


She is the daughter of Professor von Braun, architect of totalitarian computer-ruler Alpha 60. Her black hair falls to her shoulders, to the delicate woven white collar, above which her fiercely outlined eyes betray this: Natacha does not know the word “love” nor “conscience”. Nor does anyone else in Alphaville, Jean Luc Godard’s 1965 sci-fi noir, because the overlord Alpha 60 sees and hears all things, and it does not like the idea of love. Lemmy Caution, an interstellar Gallic grimacing Columbo, has fallen for Natacha, her icy innocence. For her dearth of human affection. Lemmy introduces Natacha to the poetry of Paul Eluard, the Surrealist sage of lamenting love. Because Alpha 60 has also banned poetry in this light forsaken city. Slowly Natacha thaws. All this time, she has been missing something, that humanizing gene. Physical beauty is not enough. But, love and conscience, they make us human? All it takes is a man in a Macintosh on an Orphic mission, and the defective quasi-woman is saved. From her curse. We know when it is broken. When, in the final scene, Natacha (played by Anna Karina) turns to the camera (and therefore to her newly divorced ex-husband, Godard), to shed her first ever tear, and stutter the words: “I … Love … You”.


She is a tennis pro who is nearly killed by a skydiving accident. A mysterious organization save her life with bionic implants: soon, she has a bionic right ear; a bionic right arm; and superhuman legs that allow her to run as fast as a slow car. Jaime Sommers becomes the Bionic Woman, a 1970s spin-off from The Six Million Dollar Man. The same subdivision of the CIA, The Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) has rebuilt her with the same advanced technology used to rebuild Steve Austin, her former lover. In return, she has to dedicate her life as an agent to OSI. Jaime’s cyborg self is the result of advanced American military research. Her recuperation, her enhancement, is also her weaponisation. Her decoy day job as a schoolteacher doesn’t stop the fact that she will spend the rest of her life seeking out morally dubious targets as well as permanently be a target for other scrupulous entities. If Steve was the first cyborg Adam, Jaime is the first cyborg Eve. Courtesy of Cold War America’s finest crypto Creationist minds. Twenty years on, and Motoko Kusanagi freefalls into the anime classic, Ghost in the Shell. She may have wires that plug into the back of her neck—an echo of the electrolysis in which she was lab formed—but that doesn’t detract from her impossibly curvaceous manga figure. If you are going to be assassinated point blank, it may as well be by a thing of elegaic beauty. That way, death can creep a little closer to sex.


She at first wears her hair tied up, tightly wound in 1930s coil. Her shoulders extend like runways, a silhouette prickly with supermodel swagger, and taut pencil skirt stricture. Rachael Tyrell does not know she is a replicant. Why would she? She has tactile memories of being a 6-year-old girl. And then Agent Deckard arrives, in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), to subject Rachael to an “empathy test”. She responds with all the shrill wit of a first rate intelligence, at one point replying, “Is this testing whether I am a lesbian or a replicant, Mr. Deckard?” The empathy test is a sci-fi reimagining of the Turing Test, Alan Turing’s famous means by which artificial intelligence is to be gauged. In Blade Runner, the replicants have exceeded their servile denomination. They now want to live forever. And they’ll kill in order to do so. In this advent, the law asserts its right to destroy them. Rachael, however, is an anomaly in this bio-system. She is a replicant that may be more human than machine or indeed other humans. And, it is secretly inferred—via an origami unicorn—that Deckard may well be a replicant also assuming he is human. Inevitably, Deckard falls for her/it, despite or because he knows what Natacha truly is (or, is not). He undoes her repressed hair. They fuck like animals (real, not robotic). Once again, we’re with Orpheus and Eurydice: Rachael and her saviour escape always-torrential Los Angeles, 2018, disappearing into the horizon. But, who will die first? Twenty years after Blade Runner, Osaka University unveiled the first of a series of “actroids”—androids with strong human likenesses. Most recently “Geminoid F” has been acting in a play with a human counterpart, performing with over 60 facial expressions and breathtaking lifelikeness. In Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s 2012 revisitation of Alien territory, Michael Cunningham’s robot-character David acts human to parry the calm assurance from actual humans around him, while Charlize Theron’s stoical Meredith Vickers, like Deckard, appears in flashes to be some cyborg invention of her father, Peter Weyland. Confusing? Good.


She emerges in the doorway: white sawn off top, blue boys’ trunks, backlit by neon pink smoke, the stuff of home DIY sorcery meeting soft porn search. Lisa has been Frankensteined by two teen nerd virgins—Gary and Wyatt—who have made their desktop PC do much more than play Pacman. Playboy pin-up, Barbie doll, Eddie Van Halen, government mainframe. Of these things are sexual-beings made. Weird Science (1985) presents Lisa as the ultimate adolescent wet-fantasy turned flesh. Kelly LeBrock fulfilled this role supremely for millions of real-life teens (myself included) that drooled at the dream scenario: smokin’ hot older woman as your own love/life guru, insatiably prone to sharing showers. Like, woah. 1985 also saw the publication of Donna Haraway’s influential essay “A Cyborg Manifesto”. She used the concept of the cyborg to offer a political strategy for the disparate interests of socialism and feminism, writing, “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short we are cyborgs”. This liberation-call does not immediately tarry with Lisa’s more base function on earth (or in Gary and Wyatt’s bedroom). But where does it fit with the invention and sexual success of RealdollTM, which, since 1996, “has been using Hollywood special effects technology to produce the most realistic love doll in the world”. Be ready to part with $6000 and you can choose, online, from 10 female body types, 16 interchangeable faces, and minutely customizable details including make-up, pubic grooming, cornea colour, tan lines—and elf ears. In fact, the atomized selection process could be straight from Blade Runner’s Tyrell Corporation or Prometheus’ Weyland Corp. In reality, it’s located at San Marcos, California. The company’s name? Abyss Creations. As deep—and safe—as your deepest female fantasy fear.


Only when he falls asleep in this tangle of wires, wattage and spent Kleenex does he let go, and tells himself: She is salvation, serenity, cold sexual perfection. My antidote to mother and sister. She will be siren and shorthand for something missing. He hopes to never live long enough to see her die. She is learning, without knowing, what hope is, and why She is His.

Published in Tank, Autumn 2012.


“Who’s that voice? Whose voice? Yours. Huh? Your voice. Mine? Mine. Which voice? The voice you’re talking to me with. This voice? No, the voice you’re thinking with? That voice? No, the voice you address yourself with. Oh, yes. I know that voice. No—not that one. The one that calls you by your birth name. The third person voice? Kind of. The voice that sits on your third person shoulder. The parrot voice? Not quite. The voice that your parrot tries to imitate. I hate the parrot I’ve been given. I want a falcon. Who’s voice does the falcon have? His father’s. Because…Because he hasn’t managed to shake off the voice of his father that’s been left inside him like a landmine. But one day he will. And when this happens? He’ll start writing. A memoir? A memoir. Whose voice will narrate the audio book of your future memoir? The same voice I read with. Whose voice is that? I know what it sounds like. It is more familiar to me than the eyes of my firstborn, closer than the fragrance of the woman I lost and unlost then made my wife. Whose voice is it? I don’t have a name for her. Her? Her. You have “a her” inside you? No. You said so. The voice is “a her.” There is no “she.” I’m trying to keep up with you. Good. Is her voice the same voice you write with? What kind of writing? Emails? No. Who is your email voice? There are a number. Tell me about one of them? For people I do not like, I write with the voice of Jonathan Franzen. And to the people you like? Werner Herzog. Do you speak German? No. But Werner does? Fluently. He says he does not dream. But he narrates many films. The films are dreams he cannot dream. Who is your Facebook voice? It’s like me but cooler than me. Who is your blog voice? It’s like me but less edited than me. Who is your judgment voice? It’s like me except it detests me.  Who is your letter writing voice? On the annual occasion I write a letter, this voice is David Foster Wallace. That’s … a bit … Gauche? I know. I read a biography on him. He wrote heartfelt letters to his author friends. They’re inspiring. His email voice, on the other hand, was perfunctory. You do know that all imitation ends in failure? I don’t imitate. I am not making forgeries. I am not mimicking. I am not parroting. Then? I summon. You summon? I summon. Who is this voice, the voice of the mystic inside you? She is a lady I met in a library when I was six years old. She told me that all the secrets worth knowing could never be known. She smelt of dead earth. She made me feel the coldness of the room that was hidden to every other child there. She helped me see the colours in shadows. She petrified me. She made me want to never die.  Did you ever write to her? I did but I didn’t know how to address her. How do you address yourself? As though I were yet to appear on screen. Do you have any cameo voices? Many. But I don’t recognise them. They are famous in other countries. Who is the voice you confide in your analyst with? That’s between my analyst and me. Who is the voice you seduce with? That’s between my Id and my Ego. Who is the voice you narrate the sex act with? You mean that impoverished lexicon of noun, verb, noun and leaden adverb? Fuck me. Suck me. Ooh, baby. Harder. Yeah. Etc. Etc. Yes. Who is that voice? That’s between my tongue and their … [Silence] Who is the voice you lie with? I never lie. How do I know? Read my lips. Whose lips are those? Who else’s could they be? Can I touch them? That’s highly irregular. I’m not recording this. Then how will we know this happened? You’ll tell me. I’ll tell you.  OK. OK. Who is the voice that tells you your life has taken the wrong turn and you’re heading to a steep fall where you’ll burst into flames and return to the universe? That’s easy. Tell me. No. Why? Because—if I do, then, that voice will go away. Who says? They say. When? Now. Now? This moment. If you wanted to kill me this second—for no other reason than there is a voice from time immemorial that has told you, and all of us, that killing is incongruent with the ways of the world, with what it means to be normal, virtuous—is there a voice that would try and stop you? Is it the same voice that has made you not kill before? Why do you sound so certain? It’s an assumption people make. That? That everyone we meet has not killed someone else. Because? That voice is a voice everyone hears; the opposite is the stuff of movies and genocides. If I were to kill you now, it would be because there is no voice anymore. That regulator— perhaps time, or, whatever makes time do what time does—this has broken, and the angels have gone away. The angels that listen to the voices inside? The very same. They wander among us. They eavesdrop. When you know there’s no one listening, do you stop speaking with all your voices inside? Yes. Does that ever happen? Not yet. But it will? It will. How do you know? Because, you told me. Many years ago. In the library. You remember. Yes. You looked different back then, but, you sounded just…like…this.”

Written for the exhibition We Took the Image and Put the Sound too Loudcurated by Fawz Kabra, at CCS Bard (24 March – 26 May, 2013).