It was Tuesday afternoon. The day after my adventure to Monash Caulfield campus, to see Chris Klaus speak. I was gallery sitting at West Space Gallery. There is a video work in the entrance gallery to my left. The art director is standing in front of it and looking pensive. It is a projection and it is in four parts. The arts director is trying to make it look straight and even on the wall. He asks me about it and I say it looks fine. I am pleased that he asked my opinion. It is so lovely to sit here and watch people come into the gallery. The polite ones come to the desk and ask me questions. The ones who are here to see the art director, the more arrogant artists. They do not stop at the desk and ask me anything. The stride into the gallery and swerve to the right with motive and meaning. They walk right into the office where the art directors sit at their computer screens. The artists who are not very polite, do not think I am of any consequence. When the stride through the open glass double doors of the gallery, they do not glance to their left at all. Why should they? It is onlt a small girl in glasses sitting there, looking quite comical in contrast to the incredibly large apple mac computer screen.
My shift is 12 to 3pm but when the person for shift 3 to 6pm, does not show. I stay on and read books from the world food book’s book cart. I read them while sitting my shift then put them back. I am always careful not to bend back the covers or crease the pages. While I am reading, a man comes in and talks to the art director a few feet from my desk. They are discussing a talk that is happening her at the gallery in the evening. The talk is for the project called Diologue And Exchange: International Conversations. It is a program in partmership with Monash University Art, Design and Architecture. I hear the name Chris Kraus and try to wait patiently for my turn to speak and perhaps see if I can come to thi. I am already abandoning all the things I promised to do that night. Things that include poetry book club, a free ticket to a feminist panel discussion on feminism and hair, drinks with a new friend and dinner with someone else.
The art director is speaking about estimated audience size. It is booked out.
Once the audio guy leaves I look up from my book and ask if I can stay on and help with setting up for Chris Kraus and perhaps maybe hear the talk as well.
‘Sure,’ he says. ‘ Kitty is coming at 5:30 to help set up.’ Kitty is my favorite fellow volunteer. She is tall with big brown eyes and shoulder length dark brown hair that is shiny and curly. When she arrives we take the art director’s id and card to the alcohol purveyor and buy six bags of ice. Once the bar is set up we wonder if we may have over prepared. It is uncertain how much the people coming here for a talk, will want to drink. ‘’I wonder if the dude in yellow, will come tonight?’’ Kitty asked me as we set up clean glasses on either side of the make shift bar.
Dude in yellow had been a particularly pretentious individual who had stood at the bar with the look of someone smelling something terrible. He stood there with this expression directed at Kitty and I and asked us what would get him the most drunk. ‘’All my friends are way more drunk than me and I don’t know why.’ He said to us as if it was something we had done. I fought the urge to take a glass under the bar and spit into it, before filling it with wine and handing it to him. He was wearing yellow shorts and a yellow knit jumper. On his feet were yellow shoes and he had white socks pulled up to just below his knees. ‘ I want to know what will get me drunk the most.’ He repeated after I told him that was a question with an answer that really could not be answered by us and should not be considering that we were supposed to be serving alcohol responsibly.
‘’I am going to cut you off now,’’ Kitty said as she handed him a glass of white wine. ‘’You have had enough.’’ He strode of with his nose so high it was a wonder he did not collide with a fellow art enthusiast. Kitty and I high fived and continued to serve the more courteous members of the art scene.
The night of Chris Kraus’s visit to west space, proved to be a night that Kitty and I had indeed, over prepared the bar. The largest of the 5 gallery rooms was set up with chairs facing a podium and a projector was set up to project images onto the wall that held a single large abstract painting. On the wall behind the podium, there were five large paintings in the exact same style. Bright exuberant colours splashed over the canvas in what could be called a rather joyous way. I imagined the artist at each canvas splashing paint around and singing loudly as they worked. People arrived and some had tickets and some did not. Kitty and I stood at the bar and ticked off names on a list. There were people who had not bought tickets but came with ten dollar bills held out. Chris Klaus arrived with her publicist and came to order a red wine. She noticed me as Kitty prepared her drink, and smiled in recognition. ‘’Hello,’’ she said holding out her hand and taking mine . Dhe squeezed it gently. ‘How nice to see you again,’’ she said, ‘’I have bought along some of my books to sell.’’
‘’Oh, I will set them up for you.’’ I said taking a plastic bag full of small A5 sized booklets from her and setting them up on the book cart. Tonight she was to discuss her art critism. It was not young wannabe writers that filled the gallery. It was people interested in what she had to say in regards to her view of the art scene in general.
One of the small books set up to be sold at 10$ each, was entitled Lost Properties with a sub heading; Some Arguments For And Against The Dematerialization Of Art. It was published by her own publisher, Semiotext(e). The slim volume was number 19 in a series of 22 publications produced on the occasion of the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
There is at least 100 people sitting in their chairs and looking at Kraus with quiet and respectful anticipation. I leave Kitty at the bar and stand in the entrance/exit into The large gallery. From this vantage point I can watch Kraus and also see the bar and see when Kitty may need me.
It is from Kraus’ talk that I learn of an amazing activist group called Rolling Jubilee. ‘’The group raised money to purchase bundled bad debt for just pennies on every dollar. The project goes straight to the heart of semio capital, in ways that material based, old fashioned, political art can only contemplate. Instead of producing objects that fetishize past revolutions, projects like Rolling Jubilee abstract the concept of debt with wit and elegance, and, in the same gesture, attack and ameliorate it.’’
As Kruas is speaking I glance at the bar and see Kitty stooped over and talking with an man a great deal shorter than her and older. He is at least 25 years older than her. He is wearing a base ball cap on his head and is standing like a man with one thing on his mind. He is completely ignoring the speaker. Everyone else is here for the talk. Why is he hanging around the bar? The answer form in my head before the question is completed. Just looking at him makes me feel uneasy. He gives me the creeps. He is standing in the space that needs to kept clear so Kitty and I can come in and out from behind the bar. He is essentially cutting off her exit, her means of escape. He is speaking to her and she is smiling but it does not reach her eyes.
I walk across the polished hardwood floor of the gallery and see him hand Kitty a small business card. ‘’Give me a call and we can meet up, so I can tell you more jokes.’’ He says in a low voice. ‘’Only, If I can bring Danny.’’ Kitty says. His face goes worried for a split second. ‘’Is Danny your boyfriend?’’ She hesitates here and it is for good reason. Should she lie and say yes? Is that the only things guys like this respect? The ‘’property’’ of another man? Not the fact that a woman may just not be interested? Kitty takes the card and places it on the bar. Her navy raw silk dress has no pockets. I stand at the bar and look right at this guy. ‘’Are you here for the talk?’’ I ask him softly but forcefully.
‘Yes,’’ he says.
‘’That’s funny. You are not paying any attention to the talk.’’ I tell him. ‘’You are being incredibly rude.’’
‘’I’m sorry. I am not meaning to be rude.’’ He says. He is not really looking at me though, he is still looking at Kitty.
‘’You are, though.’’ I say coldly, before walking back to my place at the entry to gallery 1. I continue listening to Chris Kraus. The creepy older man does not move from his position near the bar. His back is facing me. He is totally focused on Kitty. Like a big ugly old cat hunting a bird.
Chris Kraus is speaking about another art collective in the slums of Amsterdam. After finishing their undergraduate degreesat an Amsterdam art school in 2011, Felicia and Jan both knew that they did not want to go to graduate school or enter the local art scene as ‘’emerging artists.’’ Chris Kraus tells us that Felicia found artist run spaces pretty dubious, like an actor making a record-smells like a crisis of some sort. Felicia does however, believe in working, opening a space and building a business around it, enabled her to be busy, not caring about what everyone else was doing and getting stronger. Felicia said, ‘’I could stop my back stabbing of the art scene and get away from the stickiness of art schooland its whirlpool of success worship. I am thinking it is better to be misunderstood, than to be well understood by former professors.’’
Kitty leaves the bar and comes to stand with the art director and I.
‘’Would you like me to go and take over the bar?’’ I ask her in a whisper.
‘’Yes, please, that would be great.’’ Kitty answers.
He is still standing there at the bar. Still standing in the space I need to get through to stand behind the bar. I stride over and squeeze past him. He simply stands there looking at me not saying anything for a little while. I pick up some beer bottle tops and throw them into an empty beer carton behind me.
‘’I am a friend of hers you know.’’ He says finally. I assume he means Chris Kraus. ‘’Your very lucky. I wish I was a friend of hers.’’ I respond. There is a silence. I pick up the damp tea towl we use to open beer bottles. I lay it out and fold it lengthways in half.
‘’I’m not really.’’ He says.
‘’Then you just told a naughty little fib.’’ I say.
Why is he here? I silently screamed.
‘’Can I ask you a question? He asked.
I want to say no. I want to say no, a million times no.
I shrug. ‘’Whatever.’’ I say.
He has been staring at me this whole time but it is only now that I notice.
‘’What’s wrong with your body?’’
I go black in the heart. I feel my blood thin and my brain shoot out all the similar questions such as this, that I have been asked. In that horrible moment I want him to have just given me his stupid business card. If he had done that I could have simply taken it and ignored him. But. No. He wanted answers about me. He wanted answers because he had noticed something different about me. He had noticed my excellent posture and slight curve of my right shoulder blade as it sticks out more than my left.
My left is my best side. From my left I always thought my silhouette was quite smooth and less twisted than my right side. This guy obviously was so very discerning that even from standing to my left, he could notice what a freak I am. ‘‘I just had to ask.’’ He said.
‘’You just had to ask? Who the fuck do you think you are? Fuck you.’’ I wait for him to walk away.
He does not.
The talk was over there was applause. People came and started buying drinks and books. Kitty came to join me. I served exactly one drink before Kitty asked me what was wrong. I looked up at her friendly concerned face.
I burst into tears. I was a gross mess. I had to be reminded by people like him all the time, at every turn I took.
Kitty told the art director and he asked the guy to leave the gallery. He was drunk and started talking loudly. ‘’Hey, don’t security guard me Danny. He turned to me and looked me, ‘’Sweat heart. Hey! Sweat heart.’’
I stare right at him, ‘’I am not your fucking sweat heart.’’
I am led into the office by the art director. ‘’You can sit in my chair.’’ He says kindly, as I continue to sob. Why am I crying? I should have just kept a stiff upper lip and not let it bother me. What a pathetic little looser, I think. Danny rubs my back. The guy has a name. His name is Danius. An artist that is well known, around the Melbourne arts scene, as an alcoholic and a total creep. He has been banned from a few art establishments on account of his behavior.
In order to get him to leave on this occasion, we have to shut the night down and get everyone to go home. Kitty and I get the tram together.
Two weeks later. It is a Tuesday afternoon at West Space again. The art director comes and crouches down next to me. ‘’I just want you read through this letter,’’ He says to me. ‘’Before I send it to the barrister. It is the letter that Danius will get to inform him he is no longer allowed on these premises.’’ I look over it and feel odd. I feel bad about making a fuss. I feel embarrassed about the whole thing. I do not want people to know about this who were not there. I do not want everyone to think, wow, what is wrong with this girl’s body?
I read the letter which is about three paragraphs. It is much more consice than what I have just written myself.
‘’It is fine.’’ I tell him. ‘’Thank you.’’
And it is. Because there is nothing wrong with my body.
It is an extraordinary machine.