The Passion of the Van Gogh

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"He who laughs last is your pimp. That's what they call success. After your death, that's when the great murder really begins. They kidnap your soul and lock it up in a mismatched frame. Give you a number and a price. Keep you at a constant temperature and humidity for all eternity. Your insurance alone costs more than you earned in your whole life. An alarm goes off every time a fly lands on you. They preserve you in their books. Designers turn you into wallpaper. You might as well paint your suffering straight onto some t-shirts with the blood of your severed ear. Then any barbarian can carry you around on his overfed stomach, but at least you're being productive. That's why I stopped making anything that went on existing after the moment I finished it. Art shouldn't be for buyers. You can't sell light. You can't frame fire. I can no longer keep the weight above the ground. Everything that's real has the same pain. To be marketable you either have to repeat a replication, or even better stop breathing. No one wants to see art being born. No one but a maniac can keep that up. There's only one way out. You have to be your own audience, only then can you be free of all that ready-made applause."


"I hope you weren't expecting a serious studio, paint drippings on every surface, clotted brushes in empty jars, dried-out flowers and grinning skulls on the table, sticky palettes on the chairs? Or something more contemporary perhaps? A dusty garage full of flickering lights and humming clicking machines, a wall of video screens, a stuffed Buddha in the corner? No, that wouldn't do at all. Studios are for craftsmen. All I need is space. All that's mine I carry with me. What you see here is the slaughtering block of the familiar, the brooding ground of the phoenix, the laboratory of birth pain. I already told you, you can't frame fire. Art is wherever I'm standing."


"Ugly enough to be modern art? No, that would be too cheap for me. Deconstruction of beauty is much more upsetting..."


The museum is one great breathing lung driven by the noise of my breath. The art has spread my skin out across the floor, thin and raw as a virgin's membrane. The cells of my brain break out of my skull, branch out through the space and grasp the grasping brain cells of the spectators. I see myself magnified on the walls, the bodies, the living electric circuits, smeared out and blurry like a wet painting the painter took to bed and slept upon. Shadows of clouds sweep across an alien landscape, spots of sunlight break through, colors blind the air. 17 wild geese high in the sky, 12 crows in a tree, 5 blackbirds pulling worms out of the ground. 1000 little wings slowly unfolding one after the other. Flowering thistles ready to burst in chorus of seed. 39 lashes that will never become scars. After 3 days they're still wet. Blessed am I and blessed are those who hold the whip. Thrown to the fermenting mob, flushed away on a scum of melting faces. A battlefield of lust and bloodthirst and universal love. My fire does not catch flame but freezes in their lifeless grins. I feel them shifting behind my back, pressing their wet gazes against my skin, groaning softly and impersonally, breathing my air, tumbling into my silence. I walk upon their heads, stones of flesh, I stack up their brains and stretch myself out, I push off against the air and fly, big black flies suck out the heads, I am hell, the hound of hell, with bats I lick them empty, and what does she fill the emptiness with? With rising fire? With a thousand suns? A snake of spine marrow? With the scream of ancient pain? She fills the emptiness with nothing.

"We can't go on like this. I don't recognize us anymore. They've turned us into another one of their products, their burned-out archetypes. The world-famous couple Dr. Truth and Glass Bride, the lady artist and her charming assistant... Our life's work has been chewed to pulp by the art snobs, swallowed by the media, digested by the crowd, and what are we now but their collective bowel movement? I always knew success would be a crucifixion, I just didn't know they'd break your spine before they nailed you up. Couldn't they at least have the decency to wait until after my death?

"And now I'm going to tell you something hidden, something they'll never teach you in art school. Art isn't dead, it's as alive as a corpse full of wriggling maggots. Given enough time everything will be turned into art. A toilet that won't flush, your own shit in 90 tin cans, a glossy picture of yourself screwing your porn-model wife, the whole world balanced on an upside-down pedestal... And what if the world is too small for me? What if it's already been claimed? I could annex the entire universe just by scribbling my name on a telescope, and it would mean nothing, just another ego-thumping practical joke...

"When I started out in this racket the whole scene was run by two big gangs, the bloods and the shits, also known as the party of horror and the party of trivia. I naturally drifted towards blood and horror, but I underestimated the power of trivia, the charisma of shit. Blood is a quick cheap thrill, like a bullfight or a public execution... But shit sticks, shit sells, shit follows you home and fits nicely upon your coffee table. And shit always finds a new form, a new design, a new packaging to go on selling itself. Shit doesn't smell the difference between Van Gogh's bloody ear and some TV commercial. And as we all watched this ocean of shit rising around us, we had no answer, no defense, because that would mean confessing to the original sin, the murder of the message. And why had we killed the message? Because the message was like a child that can't stop asking embarrassing questions in front of the visitors. Fill in your message, fifteen words or less, right here above the dotted line, between 'techniques' and 'exhibitions'. So, death to the message, that sounded like a good idea, at least for a while. But there's always a message. Love is so stupid and we are so clever... Down with content and long live form... Buy my product and be one of the blessed many... The message to end all messages.

"Of course, a few dead artists are still allowed to mumble something in the margins about beauty and sensitivity, as long as they stay dead, as long as they were broken-hearted and misunderstood during their lifetime... I created the light but there's no one there to see it. They'd rather watch me crawl with a magnifying glass across the sick skin of daily life, and hand me a trophy full of cash every time I find a new pimple or blackhead. Everything except anything that matters... Of course nature isn't a subject anymore because they all think nature is so cute and relaxing. As long as you don't get too close. So what we're left with is humans and their products. Why even go through all the bother of imitating life? I could just walk around spraying my signature on every ready-made symptom of the human disease...

"When the world calls you an artist, beware... They're just looking for something to worship and kick around. When you meet someone who wants to become an artist, beware... What they mean is a social identity, a lifestyle. But for the artist to be, or become, or remain, some kind of art must be produced. The empty rituals of a long-forgotten faith. Pushing back self-imposed borders, forever opening up new dimensions of confinement. Art for art's sake has always been a fairy tale. When did artists start breaking free? After they all got laid off, made redundant, replaced by machines, cameras, printing presses, die-cast molds... The question is never why, always how. And how much. Success is all about being at the right time at the right place with the right advertising agency. And the public? How long does anyone look at a painting? About as long as they can hold their breath. There is no public. There are only collectors and curators, colleagues and copycats and all those other parasites. The real audience is the artist himself, who lives round the clock in his own hallucination...

"I had a dream, not long before I met you. About an exhibition. I dreamed I'd been invited by one of the big-time museums. My ego had reached a new peak with a view towards even higher peaks. Every day as usual I sat in my studio, staring at the empty wall, waiting for the visions to appear. But this time nothing happened, the blank surface remained blank. On the day of the opening I had nothing, I knew nothing, the big white spaces I had been given to fill were still as empty as my mind. I hadn't even formulated a statement to spell out what I was supposed to be meaning and how they should all explain it to each other. The invitations had already been sent out, the press was coming, my colleagues were all looking forward to the free drink and gossip. And now the doors opened, I could hear the heels moving closer like the ticking of an army of clocks across the hard museum floors. The end, my end, was walking towards me...

"Art eclipses the heavens. The art snobs are performing a little theatrical production in which frontiers are pushed back and new horizons opened up, simply by booing and hissing and jeering... Look what we've found here, they laugh, brandishing a blue seagull against the yellow background of the sky, we all know you made this at some time in your past, didn't you realize that tapestry isn't a serious medium, and now let's see you try and fit that into your concept, up up in the air you go and you may not come down, you may not touch the earth with your feet until you've explained your concept to our satisfaction. Your exhibition has already been booked so hurry up, you're high up in the air and you're falling fast, so where's that concept, have you found it yet? It's not enough just to create something beautiful, my three-year-old daughter could do all that too... Don't you see, the concept is clearly visible to everyone except you... The cold darkness rising through all your cells and all you have to do is let it take over, without shame, without holding back... After all it's nothing but art...

"At that moment I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was the blank surface of the ceiling above my bed. I laughed. I thought I knew why, but I really didn't. Now I know.

"We'll start right here where no one can see us. This is not for my portfolio, not for the critics, not for my legacy. We don't exist. Only the art exists. The art decides who is the artist. I've taught you everything I know. Now I want to know what you know."


You say I am the artist? How do I know the art is mine? Give it to me here, put it in my hands. Are my hands not big enough? Then lay it down at my feet. You say you can't hold it? You say you can't find it? Then go on searching until you've got it. And in the meantime I'll sharpen my axe. I want to see the art bleed, blood is alive, blood is real. First I chop off its tongue, its words fall screaming from its mouth, then I chop off its ears, the words of others fall screaming from its brain, I chop off its head, the words of the past fall screaming from its chest, I chop off its balls and the words of the future fall screaming from its belly... Is there still a word that dares to speak? Then I'll chop it to pieces until it bleeds and screams. Too much time already I've wasted speaking and writing in the language of machines. From now on I'll be programming a virus to infect the human code. Have you found the art yet? You say you've been searching for years? Carry on, I'll wait for you here, sharpening my axe. I'm patient, we've got plenty of time. We don't exist and that which doesn't exist never dies.

This text is an excerpt from the chapter The Object from our novel Antarctica. You can read another excerpt from that chapter here.

All words and images copyright 2008 by Vanita & Johanna Monk.

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