In Plato’s Anus: A Love Letter, from Gilda Williams
January was a busy month for the moon. The final weeks witnessed a super-blood wolf moon, a rare occurrence when a total lunar eclipse coincides with the moon’s closest orbit to Earth. NASA inaugurated its big-deal year of 50th-anniversary events to celebrate Neil Armstrong’s momentous first steps, and China made a surprise visit to the moon’s dark side, rarely before glimpsed by human eyes.
In February, as a follow-up, London’s Kunstraum hosts a sort of gallery-sized lunar eclipse: a demi-galactic event with works by Liam Gillick, Paul Noble, Giorgio Sadotti, Gilda Williams and Liz Wright. The event shines on 28 February for one evening only, lasting slightly longer than January’s 62-minute super-blood wolf moon.
Huddled at gallery centre are two sculptures: Elizabeth Wright’s tipsy HP Sauce bottle and Paul Noble’s loo-roll bust of Sadotti, casting an aquiline shadow upon a selection of avant-garde films that Giorgio’s screening on the wall. Prior to and following the screening Liam Gillick provides the houselights via a slide projector that amplifies its own sound, the conceptual artist’s succinct interpretation of son et lumière. (Dear budding art critic, well done for making it this far x! Keep writing, keep reading, that’s my advice. And whatever you do, do NOT insert untranslated French terms into your writing – sounds pretentious and dated. Avoid.) The show’s configuration resembles an atom: at the centre a small weighty mass – densely packed paper; thick sauce – like a nucleus, then lightening and expanding outwards to its immaterial light-filled edges, composed mostly of empty space. Or the show’s like a little galaxy, with a single sculptured suspended planet with adjacent satellite – like our very Earth, finally occupying its proper pre-Galileo spot at the core of the Universe, returning humans to the centre of attention where we used to believe creation had placed us, this human-centred hub-like arrangement now secularized and renamed the ‘Anthropocene’. But I digress.
Incipient dyslexia (I suppose) caused me to read your title Giorgio as ‘In Pluto’s Anus’: i.e., the icy dwarf planet, furthest from the sun, literally ‘the back of beyond’. So I assumed we saw eye-to-eye, and this show was about outer space – not philosophy, Plato’s cave, etc.. No; Pluto’s butt: the silent, impossibly cold, lightless edge of the Milky Way. Also because ‘In Plato/Pluto’s Anus’ is like a little one-planet galaxy, with the Giorgio’s films glowing in the dark like the moon, Liam’s bright projector light, the sun.
‘Some have connected Pollock’s Galaxy painting to Einstein’s discovery of unbound space in an ever-expanding universe.’ From his early years as a painter, Jackson Pollock had been attracted to the sky. By 1944 Pollock had moved toward abstraction in works such as Night Sounds and Night Mist. Other paintings from that year included Electric Night, Night Dance and Night Ceremony, and attest to his growing fascination for mysteries of the dark. In 1946 he produced a painting called Constellation, part of a series of canvases that year based on nature. Known as the Accabonac Creek series, Pollock produced these at his new home in Springs, rural Long Island, where for the first time in many years he could be close to nature. Unable to afford a car, he and his wife Lee Krasner walked and bicycled everywhere. No doubt some of those walks were at night, under a sky filled with stars that seemed to shine more brilliantly than when they’d competed with the lights of New York City.
‘In October 1946, the Giacobini-Zinner comet brought with it what Time called a “gaudy shower of meteors”, which streaked across the sky at about 17 per minute. The Giacobini-Zinner comet would have resonated with Pollock’s desire to think big and paint fast. The comet was 24 million miles from earth, hurtling through space at a speed of 14 miles per second. The shooting stars that accompanied it were described as the most brilliant display of the century. Perhaps they planted the seed for Ploock’as painting, Shooting Star.
‘The New Yorker declared at the time, “Comet’s are a light sort of celestial confection, like sugar-spun cotton candy, and contain little solid matter.” An astronomer once remarked, in a spirit of good clean hyperbole, that you could pack a comet’s tail in an overnight bag”.’ (Kirsten Hoving, 2002, liberally rearranged and occasionally reworded)
I like thinking about Pollock, under the night skies, peddling noiselessly around the southern tip of Long Island – a 2-hour drive from I grew up – and staring wordlessly upwards. I like thinking about art critics getting it all wrong, about Greenberg going all Eureka! when he landed upon the idea that Pollock’s paintings are about flatness, when for Pollock they were all about infinity, about big dippers and comets, about the vastness of consciousness, about rearranging the stars.
Art critics. We get it wrong.
Asked about the very origin of art, Pliny the Elder told a Greek myth wherein the besotted maid Dibutade traced the outline of her lover’s sleeping profile on the wall on the eve of his departure for war, in order to see him always near her. And this romantic tale opens the vast history of drawing: an amorous gesture, a message of love. Are we meant to trace your profile, Giorgio, projected in shadow on the far flickering wall? And then, once I’d noticed that I’ve written about every artist joining me in Plato’s Anus, so to speak, it occurred to me to compose everybody love letters, sometimes asking forgiveness.
Dear Giorgio, I’m sorry, but I missed both your stagings of Eclipse in 2015, when you screened Michelangelo Antonioni’s Eclisse (1962) with a vinyl record dangling between projector and screen, producing (I’ve been told) a beautiful shadowy hole, a spinning gap, a bloodless bullet-hole, a dark opening. (No tasteless blackhole/anus jokes, please). That’s long been your theme, like Navels to Nipples (2006), when you cut a perfect circle between the navel and (nearest) nipple of a naked or semi-naked figure printed in a 70s softporn photo book, allowing an obscene circular peek at the page beneath. The last ’empty’ 7 minutes of Eclisse picture modern lovers Vittoria and Piero (Alain Delon and Monica Vitti – never looked better) not meeting where they’d agreed in the blocky EUR neighbourhood of Rome, the blinding eclipsed sun blazing a hole through the screen at the end while love dies on an empty street corner.
Remember that old review I wrote of your ‘Be Me‘ show in 1996, when I pretended to ‘be you’ writing up your own show? The piece was signed ‘Gilda Williams, aka Giorgio Sadotti’ and for a while people assumed I moonlighted as the artist Giorgio Sadotti, the way Brian Doherty’s artist alter ego was Patrick Ireland. I was tempted to lie, fraudulently admitting ‘You caught me! That’s me!’, so desperately have I always secretly wanted been to be an artist, like you. Then there was the time – remember? – we had that ‘in conversation’ at Swiss Cottage Library and 3 people showed up, swelling to 5 when 2 library staff were forcibly enlisted to fill a couple of folding chairs. Luckily one attendee was Penelope Curtis, Tate Britain Director, who bravely lobbed question after question at you, unperturbed and serious, perfectly at ease about attending London’s least-popular event that night. I so appreciated her helping hand, making it look normal: a love letter’s due you too, Penelope? The other stops on our 2013 ‘Monster’ UK tour ran better, thankfully, but next time Giorgio we hire roadies, to handle the empty chairs.
Dear Liam, a review of your terrific solo show at Robert Prime Gallery in 1996 was the first I ever contributed to that now-defunct magazine Art/Text, though re-reading it now I think: what insipid, dead-dull writing, yuk. I’m sorry Liam. So instead I want to tell you a true story you may never have heard, in which you star.
In the early 90s I found employment mostly as an Italian-English translator (like Giorgio, I harbor strong northern Italian roots) and was transcribing a talk you’d given in Italy, about art and architecture. Your thesis was that, frankly, those two muses now share nothing in common. Your talk was good! And was simultaneously ‘translated’ into Italian onstage by a young woman who, it turned out, had vastly overstated even a passable knowledge of the English tongue. In fact, she was perilously lost from the moment you opened your mouth, drowning in tight English idioms, quickly reduced to translating blindly. Listening to the tape I thought – wow. She sounds blithely composed, professional even, at ease with her startling incompetence. I even wondered whether she even realized how many light-years off-mark her Italian was compared to your original. She continued fluidly, her translation appalling but the performance majestic. For the Italian-speaking audience, the event went flawlessly.
Have you ever noticed, Liam, how often you sprinkle your sentences with ‘in a sense’? ‘In a sense, architects imagine their work as akin to a sculptor’s, but no artist has sculpted like that for decades’, you’d say. Smart stuff! But instead of ‘in a sense’ the hapless translator heard ‘innocence’, and thus wrapped your entire lecture around a moving treatise on the architect’s lost innocence, adrift in the city. Her talk was good too! But spectacularly unrelated to your original. Luckily for her, you dependably peppered ‘in a sense’ throughout your speech, right to the final dregs of the lengthy q.&a., thus confirming the translator’s certainty about your thesis regarding the waning of innocence in late-Modernist art and architecture – nowhere in your words, but stupendously coherent.
Transcribing the recording of your talk, I found her translating disaster remarkable. What on-the-spot talent! But the catalogue’s editor did not share my enthusiasm, and I was instructed to fix it, translate Gillick’s real words straight into Italian and ignore the other translator’s panicked madness, so that’s what got published. What a shame. The world’s forever lost her brilliant, crazy, found-in-translation, destined for my ears only. The original tape’s worth digging up.
Whatever happened to her? An abysmal translator but extraordinary poet, novelist, screenwriter, spy? Such faculties of invention! ‘Romance at short notice was her speciality.’
Dear Paul, I’ve visited your Nobson New town a few times now, have loved every minute there, and once wrote about it –- ooh! back in 2001 – quite purply, describing the place as as ‘Escher drawings in a post-nuclear landslide’ and ‘a graphite ghost town inhabited by absentee lumberjacks and mutant cows’ and ‘the Garden of Earthly delights gone very wrong’. Do I overwrite? Anyway, my reason for this letter regards Doley, the unwinnable board game you invented about life on the dole (‘Spend £20 you can’t afford on a cafe breakfast. Skip 3 turns.’), apparently played competitively in the phantomatic Nobson.
It’d been a just a few months that I’d moved to London when I made my way to your opening where I knew nobody and worried about the dumb American questions I kept asking to disbelieving Londoners. So it was with much relief that I settled down to a good long Doley tournament, which positively took hours, slinging back the copious red wine (better than the usual gallery fare), mercifully spared the tedious gallery-opening chore of small talk, a social ritual at which I suck. Apparently someone took a photograph of our game, and that famous artists like Gillian Wearing joined in. All I knows is I had a blast, and learned all about the intricacies of working class Britain without the embarrassment of asking dumb American questions, a social ritual at which I excel.
Dear Elizabeth, beautiful Elizabeth, the ICA invited me to write about you for their then-newly launched Beck’s Futures award (long scrapped) in what, 2000? Last week I spent the afternoon hunting for that forgotten Becks text in my old laptops, only to find it, re-read it and hate it. Did you hate it? It’s arty and over-serious and I hate it. I’m glad it’s so buried in the amnesia that was paper-publishing. Your work deserves better. All the scrupulous detail since your giant bicycle, B.S.A. Tour of Britain Racer Enlarged to 135% (1996-97), as if a Cylcops had casually leaned her bike against the gallery and might be found milling about the vernissage, all 8-foot-ten of her. Behold the warped label on the drunken HP bottle, as skillful as any perspectival drawing, plus the familiar sticky 3-D drip, the painstakingly tilted Big Ben. (Did you know ‘HP’ stands for ‘Houses of Parliament’? Honestly, I didn’t know! Honestly, at this I excel!) ‘HP Sauce is more addictive than anything I know’, Keith Richards has reliably said. Your drunken bottle’s perhaps drowning its sorrows over HP’s steadily declining sales since 2055, or the factory’s re-location in 2007 from Aston, near Birmingham, to Elst, the Netherlands, with a loss of 125 Midlands jobs, which takes us back to Paul’s Doley game, sadly.
Your truly top-drawer wedding ensemble – vintage YSL, a textured, burnt-orange trouser suit with an asymmetrical cut, that’s my memory – still ranks among my lifetime top-ten sartorial awards, actually earning my unsurpassed no.1 spot in the hugely tricky ‘bridal-wear’ category. And then we had our little ones around the same time, practically going into labor on the same day, and sorry to go all nostalgic but the kiddie birthday parties – watching them pass the parcel and squeal – really were fun. I’m afraid this has veered in a soppy and girly direction ;( Please forgive.
Speaking of guilt, January was a busy month for me too. I resolved for 2019 to reach to the treacherous depths of my emails and reply to every last one, confronting even those unbearable hard-to-write bombs lying in wait at the bottom. And: I have hereby drained my inbox to the final drop, responding to everybody, spam and all, replying whenever possible of course with a love letter.
Dear Luxury Transportation Services of Port Washington, Long Island, N.Y., apologies for these belated greetings, I too send heartfelt good wishes for a Very Happy Thanksgiving with Your Family! Your kind good wishes and remembrance of me at each and every holiday, all year round – Labor Day Savings! Special New Year’s Eve Rates! – have touched my heart, not least because I so rarely availed myself of your Dependable Online Taxi Reservation – Book Now! service, preferring when I long ago visited my hometown (where, you should know, I no longer know anybody) to accept a ride in my nephew’s Volvo which costs – despite my covering tolls, parking, petrol (‘gas’), plus a $50 family-friendly tip – less than half your Executive Airport Limousine Service at Discount Prices!
I have long admired your willingness to magnanimously overlook my repeated infidelity, refusing to allow any personal misgivings to spoil the spirit of the holidays, and I look forward to continuing to receive your gracious good wishes every few weeks for the rest of my life – even despite my having no reason ever again to visit Port Washington, N.Y. – given the absence of an Unsubscribe option anywhere in your mail or fascinating website. The steadfast loyalty you have displayed towards me, despite my unremitting disinterest, exhibits a level of commitment and goodwill so rare in today’s tough commercial world. Please rest assured that your never-ending tenderness is well-appreciated here in faraway London. Do come visit soon 🙂 ! Extending my thanks and fondest wishes,
Dear Arty Newsletter, thank you for sending me your scrupulously selected ’10 Young Artists to Watch’. Please, what I am supposed to watch them do, exactly? Watch them shine briefly, then burn out and vanish? Could you kindly finish your sentence, so that I can dutifully follow whatever instruction you intended, yours faithfully,
Dear MarksyXXX (and associates), despite your daily protestations to the contrary, I’ve recently concluded that Hot Asian Girls do not, in fact, Want to Date me, and that Beautiful Russian Women Are not, in truth, Waiting for me Now. Mystified, and after much deliberation, I’ve reached the certainty that this represents a desperate and ongoing case of mistaken identity, to be corrected forthwith. My sincerest apologies that this realization arrives so late in the day, but I urge you to direct these life-changing messages promptly to that other, unhappy Gilda Williams who no doubt awaits true love from the East whilst sadly suffering tinnitus, car insurance troubles, and hermaphroditic dysfunctions of a highly private nature. I fear moreover she may have tragically failed to secure a pension and is on the brink of penury, awaiting your fabulous if unspecified stay-at-home job that guarantees a miraculous £5000/week, sometimes promised in bitcoin. I assure you that, whilst I cannot help but suffer to imagine my so unfortunate namesake, I am pleased to report that she is NOT me.
On behalf of that other half-deaf, vehicle-less, chronically lovesick, painfully afflicted Gilda Williams, please could you prioritize correcting the above email address and re-direct ASAP your daily posts to this miserable soul, who will no doubt be gladdened finally to hear of your indispensable services that can so swiftly and cheaply resolve her host of personal dilemmas, yours very truly,
Dear Say It With Flowers of Manhasset, Long Island, N.Y., this may come as some surprise but actually, I’m not the online-flower-sending type! Did I ever place an order with you? I genuinely have no recollection. Maybe once, in 2008? Maybe I sent a medium-priced bouquet to my gran at that nearby clinic (name?). The episode, for me, is a blank; honestly I remember nothing of the transaction. But plainly you do! And your recalling me so unflaggingly after all these long years shows a faithfulness verging on the saintly, your steady flow of e-mails providing a great comfort to me almost bi-weekly. Thank you 🙂
It is for this reason, in a spirit of confession, that I must admit to you – long story but – I now know not a single human being in the extended environs of my old hometown, where your establishment plies its excellent trade. My closet relative lives a 5-hour drive away; plus, like I say, I’m just not the online-flower-sending type.
Which brings me to the crux of this letter, so painful for me to write. I can hereby state truly, without minimal equivocation, that I am 100% certain, from the deepest place in my being, that I will absolutely never ever have the slightest occasion to avail myself of your One-Day Only Summer Offer! or Valentines Day Special!, however generous. So persuaded am I of this claim that I am prepared to sign a legally binding notarized affidavit confiming that I must never, ever, find motive to purchase anything, whatsoever, under any circumstances, from Say It With Flowers of Manhasset, Long Island, N.Y., forever.
Please, I beg you, do not misinterpret this as a betrayal of your steadfast belief in my appreciation for Bright&Beautiful Choices, at Bright&Beautiful Prices! As much as I cherish your willingness to remain my loyal pen-pal I fear now I’ve been leading you on, and cannot bear the deceit any further. I assure you that I’d have availed myself of the Unsubscribe option long ago had I found one which – and please don’t let this damage our relationship, now flourishing over a decade! – I’ve singularly failed to find concealed anywhere in our vast correspondence. You are wasting your time courting me so – there, I’ve said it. Please Unsubscribe me, but above all, please forgive 🙁
PS: in strictest confidence, can we agree that Mylar balloons are tacky? My son as a toddler was badly frightened of them: bobbing and swaying unpredictably like ghosts, spoiling what was meant to be a happy day. I shared his distaste. Teddy bears, at least, you can swiftly confiscate and donate quietly to a charity shop, whereas there’s really nothing uglier than watching those over-sized monstrosities float around stupidly the whole party long, only to pitifully deflate for the rest of the weekend, like slowly dying pets. I find myself filled with relief when they are finally reduced to lifeless flattened things on a one-way trip to the bin. This joy-at-death can hardly be beneficial for the soul. Consider the environment! Drop the Mylar? Just a suggestion, yours most sincerely,
Dearest Giorgio, I’ve been over the moon for your one-of-a-kind invitation to contriubute to ‘In Plato’s Anus’ – sure hope you don’t mind the Pluto/Plato mix-up, mea culpa mea culpa. Apologies. But I know nothing about Plato’s cave, or philosophy, etc. Too tight and lightless for misleading shadows cast upon the wall, or something? You’ll have to fill in, in case somebody asks what ‘In Plato’s Anus’ means.
I’m glad for the exhibition’s ritualistic destruction of my failed texts, of which I have a tremendous stash. They abundantly deserve their end. And it’s true about desperately always secretly covetously hopelessly wanting to be an artist, like you. Did you know this is the first time ever that an artist has invited me to write and offered equal billing on the participants’ list? Honest! After 25+ years. Giorgio, from the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the acknowledgement so much. This has meant the absolute world to me. Thank you!
In admiration, and beaming for our long complicit friendship, Gilda
‘In Plato’s Anus’, 26 Feb 2019, Kunstraum, London (photos G.Sadotti and O. Koroleva)