Cancer treatment is a stop/go journey.
Find something wrong, chop it out. Wait.
Find something else wrong.
Try and find someone who'll chop it out.
Chop it out.
Wait until, inevitably, something else goes wrong.
Can't chop it out this time.
Cry a lot. Get dead. Zzzzz.
My story has been played out in a million other abdomens and I've never heard about them.
Maybe it's like mine.
Maybe there's something mysteriously toxic about life modelling for blokes.
the quote above came from my friend Pred's blog - sometime in may 2004, which was the last month he lived... and the last 6 days of it were pretty fucking sparse.
tomorrow - well 4 hours strine time is his deathversary - or at least when Abel & I got the call from Stacy - whose bike had been stolen from outside the hospital where she'd kept a vigil.
how fucked is that?
mind you - if you're being shat on by an elephant you tend to notice it less if you tread in a dog turd.....
My mum says that people only swear if they feel powerless - and maybe this explains the profusion of swearwords in my current rants about the big D.
yep - I feel powerless about the big D.
anyway - I returned to Australia and discovered that another life model, CLive Stanbridge, is dying of pancreatic cancer.
Clive is incredibly physically agile and strong with a face that reminds me Samuel Beckett. I modelled with CLive a few years ago for a winter course taught by David Fairbairn. We did a series of short poses, getting longer and longer, and then ending up in some strange durational state of extended discomfort - enmeshed in a series of furniture style props - while students did large scale charcoal drawings all around.
the drawings were bad auerbach messy things - but OK you know - with a bt more life in them than poncey academy style scratchings. I imagine all these big messy drawings rolled up under people's beds or in their garage - not fitting nicely into a framed wall piece above the sofa and it makes me smile.
for me, thinking of clive - I have a distinct physical association. not just form drawing him, and remembering his poses - but remembering his smell, his touch, his physical presence. I barely know the guy at all -and yet do know part of him intimately.
Life modelling is a bloody amazing special occupation and I feel so glad that I was able to do it. I'm also glad I could get out of it. clive was a full time model for 20 something years - and has no super, no health fund, no pension. He's fucking sick, he's dying, he's shit poor - and has had to work himself into the grave - or into his bed.
Apparently the NAS has a collection box for him to help cover some expenses, and the compound sketch club also passed around the hat last week.David Fairbairn is apparently coordinating the fundraising activity, and also apparently drawing him at his bedside.
I don't know how i feel about that.
kind of icky.
so i've chucked on a bit from a paper I wrote 3 years ago a few months after Pred died..... coz it shows my ownpainful grapplings with the horrible strangeness of touching, imagining, remembering flesh that we see, we touch, we love, and that we lose.....
As an artists model I have a social circle of friends who are models and artists, some who are models only. I have modelled with some friends, and drawn others, and others have drawn me. So I am familiar with a type of mimetic exchange and comfortable with it. The last ‘doubles” gig I did was with a friend, with whom I’d collaborated on guerilla theatre performance projects and also drawn. We’d done a series of crazy poses, standing on our heads, pretending to throttle each other, whip each other, writhe on the ground and culminated with a six hour tableux vivant from Gericault's Raft Of The Medusa. He was crouched in a slump of despair while I slid off the dais in contorted death agonies using a type of shoulder stand where I rested on his shoulders. All fun stuff and a very intimate and precious experience, because models posing together have a type of complicity.
Because we are performing “silent” models are able to speak, quietly, and implcity in the double modelling are the quite comments, gestures and squeezes where we feel each others pain thresholds and physical limits. Talking is a great distcraction from pain and discomfort of extened poses. Anyway the next time my accomplice modelled, I persuaded him to be tied to a crucifiix and pretend he was jesus dying on the cross. A few weeks alter he was diagnosed with cancer. I found at that point impossible to imagine drawing him, because I knew that all I would be seeing would be his corpse.
Earlier this year he had to go into hospital and his partner (also and artist and model) kept a vigil by his bedside and took her watercolours. Abel and I decided that spending time with him was the best way we could show out support, and as we always acarried pencils wiht us, we ended up sitting around drawing each other pretty much because that's what artists do. when Pred saw this he was horrified at the thought that we would draw him in hospital bed, and expressed it as a violation. He wasn’t presenting himself to us, he wasn’t in control of how he was presented before us, and he wasn’t in control of his body, or able to understand or articulate what was happening, at all. My last memory of him is of a type of wild eyed terror and rage, a desperate rage to cling to life.
Actually my last memory of him was the last time I read his weblog from april, and the last brushmark I put on a painting of him that I finished after his death. What art objects do (like written texts) is they change temporal order. Time doesn’t proceed in a sequence but loops backwards and forwards, in th way that memory does. The way we carry objects with us, horde, discard, exchange, destroy, create and collage them is a similar way to how we actualise our experiences and memories. I think that this looping, this disrution of the continuum off birth, life, death is a way we have to try to mediate death, to cheat it, to alternate it, even generate a simulacra of it that can be exchanged.
Pain is that which destroys language and destroys meaning. Witnessing pain is horrible because we are witnessing someones own incapacity to articulate or contain their affective sensation, and we are taken into a space where meaning no longer operates according to the rule of simulacra (a representation of a representation of a representation. All of which function as units of exchange) but into a space of death, death being a finality that cannot be exchanged. As Foucault says dying is a pure event that can never verify anything. It cannot be exchanged, or reversed and cannot really be represented. Death is a great unnamed unbearable mysetery that is only really cognicised in the individual trauma of grief. As Lingis writes however, death is the immanent condition for living, and life is the activity which we carve out of death. Lingis also described the importance of being with those who are passing form life into death, of bearing witness to the most singular and isolating experience that exists. This is where I start to wonder about what spectatorhsip is, what is bearing witness, and what is appropriating or violating someones experiences by representing it, or what is giving it expression. If pain (and death) is characterized by its own unspeakability, it's un-representatilbity then for someone to depict or represent someone elses pain is to a certain extent to speak for them, which is problematic.
three years later - i still hold onto the mantra that the immanence of death is what propells my own movement forwards, into life, confusion, movement, exchange.
for me, grief is in every breath - but it's about breathing, letting tears flow and gasping out sobs. I'm so glad now to have my brother's photo on my desk where I write, to be able to listen to jazz and smile, and to have spent time in NYC with his ex - healthily speaking about and cursing him with tears in our eyes...
I hope I don't sound too sanctimonious tho. One of the reasons why I modelled full time for 4 years - was that i was in mourning (for my brother) and paid enforced stillness, the ritual death play of reciting, posing as a corpse gave me the space to sit and learn to endure my unendurable feelings.
In the 4 years since, of thrying to theorise the bizarre practice of posing as a statue of playing dead for a group of people who sit and draw and ostensibly seek to represent that performance..... I've managed somehow to negotiate that dillemma.
kind of. I'm less interested in the act of drawing as representation, as visualisaiton and as the capturing of a fleeting moment of life - or death - but as a way of entering and extending certain relationships.
As much as i cherish my mad paintings of pred on a crucifix with a flouro orange cock and a crown of bougainvillea - I cherish more the flesh memory of his shoulders supporting mine. where I could feel the air through both our frames as we lay and talked. talked madly about science, politics, sex, porn, catholicism, stupidity, squatting, anything to take my focus off my aching hips, my numbing legs, the increasing pressure of blood in my temples.
Walking past the yuppie dog boxes at the end of the street, takes me back to the day of posing - coz it was the same day that Pred had just opened them as a squat - OK - not the dogboxes but the balloon factory that was on their site. i remember the social centre party that weekend, the spray paint, the beer, the kids, the music, the laughter, the fucking brilliant mad life that surrounds every memory of Pred and of so many mad brilliant people around him.
so for me - life drawing is always the start of something, of a connection that moves me into life, into engaging with people, with paint, with play. Drawing is drawing breath, drawing water, drawing life. It's opening up lines, and bodies and viewing into things that are incomplete, strange, unseen, barely imagined, uncoordinated, and deliciously mad.