Though I spent my formative years as an art object, I’ve always wanted to be an artist.
I like to be looked at so I decided that my first artistic project would be myself.
I have concluded, based on the information that Owl brings, that I must, therefore, be a PERFORMANCE ARTIST. My performances are primarily observed by birds; you, fair readers, witness my documentation of the event, via my scrapbook. The performance artist, Marina Abramovic, lived behind a glass wall for public viewing, and writes that the energy of the audience helped sustain her through the ascetic, ritualized ordeal. I have to sustain myself through my life without an audience, drawing energy from other sources.
The record of my performance is, in the tradition of the odalisque (rather than the whore), not promoted. It lies here, awaiting you, who might be interested in me. Maybe I am a CONCEPTUAL performance artist since my scrapbook stimulates an idea of me, my life, in your mind.
The definition of performance artist observes that we typically come from varied disciplinary backgrounds. My background hasn’t varied much; it’s usually exotic and luxe, though I have been reduced to a line upon a flat field of color. Usually, my background suggests an interior, like the obelisk. Generally, the interior exists only to couch my nakedness, the hushed lustre of my body with its inviting apparency.
I might be a multi-disciplinary performance artist. Like the movies I watch, my work exists in two dimensions + time. My life doesn’t move as fast as movie film, but, then again, I have lasted for more than two hours. I work with several types of imagery–visual and textual. Plus, according to the birds, my dreams are all in sound.
The birds are not convinced by all this. They feel they are important, independent aspects of my life, which means I might not be a performance artist, but a character in a play.
They are my existential dilemma.
They say there is no existential dilemma because this is not a play. They are wildly interested in FOOD, FASHION and FUN. They have asked me to post more on those topics, which were so popular last summer. They want me to leave the obelisk and go hang out on the shore. Ok, Ok, I say, but what does a work of art DO on the sea shore? Every time I go out there, I’m assaulted by sirens and nereids, phantom ships shooting fireworks and giant seashells whose glossy interiors sigh sad circular themes, stuffing my heart full of feelings, padding the perfect punching bag.
Black Swan says, “Put on a bathing suit!”
Hawk says, “Take a sandwich!”
The starlings make a giant beach ball in the sky and spin like a celestial globe.
Phoenix found me on the shore (see my movie), and doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. Obelisk, sea shore, o’er the hills, any place has fuel to burn. Crow-as-Parrot still says nothing but “Where are you going?” (shut up Crow!).
If I put on a bathing suit and packed a sandwich, if I hung out on the beach and caught some rays, would the sirens go away? Would the seashells consent to being silent souvenirs? Would the ship sail back to shore with treasure to share? Would the nereids turn out to just be bait, the sirens the wiry hang-overs of a half-starved, worn-out crew?
When I ran from my former life as a decadent odalisque, I imagined being anything, anything native to the shore…not cheap toxic trash or the phantasmagoria of some sailor’s mind…I wanted to be real.
While hunting for rodents in a nearby trash heap, Hawk found a very helpful book: Around the World in 1,000 Pictures. Now, when Crow squawks WHERE ARE YOU GOING? I flip open my new book and consider a page. (Read my last two posts to learn more about my Crow parrot’s persistent questioning.)
Here I am in my traveling outfit with Crow (as parrot):
Oh the places we could go!
[click photos to enlarge]
Ah, the Virgin Isles. But…the legends I’ve heard of Bluebeard’s Castle involve a slew of bloody no-longer-virgin wives strung up in a forbidden room. Let’s try another page.
I’ve always wanted to go to England. I find the English language so romantic, mostly because I understand it. Two lovers embrace beside an industrial thoroughfare and a recently fired cannon! There, in the distance, another tower renowned for the murder of wives.
Let’s look up a place I’m familiar with. Henriette and I spent our early years in Paris:
Surrealism began at Café de Flore as well. It is a movement I am particularly fond of as it liberated my head, allowing me to replace it with strange objects (when I want to blend in with the bohemian sort, I wear red harem pants as a head). Ah Paris! A place to see and be seen. Henriette and I felt our souls excised by the cutlery at this gazing feast; if I went back I fear my scrapbook would regress to ghostly, bland snapshots, an empty odalisque’s un-experience of supposedly important non-events.
This could be a very fine place to go as there do not appear to be so many people. I like beautiful scenes and the company of artists, especially when they notice that I am also one. Look at these beautiful scenes:
And yet, I don’t like the right-hand picture so much. It resembles the first violent scene in my movie which initiated my triumphant retreat into the obelisk.
An odalisque is lucky to have an obelisk of her own. If I left, could I find my way back?
Photographs from Around the World in 1,000 Pictures
Edited by A. Milton Runyon and Vilma F. Bergane,
(c) 1954, Doubleday & Company
Where are you going? Hello.
As far as I can tell I am not moving. Well, I am, but only because I rest on this planet, which is repeating its one path around the sun. Each night, when the sun vanishes, I feel sad. It’s lonely in the obelisk without the sun’s co-habitation, once all you birds tuck your heads beneath your wings and roost, at least until I settle at my desk and set to work on my scrapbook. Then I forget to be lonely or sad. Day breaks the enclosing dome of night and I look up with a feeling of accomplishment.
Where are you going? Hello.
I should get more sleep. Maybe take a walk on the shore. Pack up my scissors, throw some buns in my teapot, and head out for some free air. I feel there is one right time for that walk and that it should lead me to one particular place. It’s terrible, Crow, for that thought–of one time, one place–fills me with dread. I do not know what time, what place, and I hovel up here bitter beneath this cosmic tyranny. I want anytime, anyplace. I would like the cosmos to operate with more ease, to unfold like the seed-head of a sea-thistle. I resent being a wheel in this cosmic machine.
Are you? Hello.
Odalisques are art. I wanted to be real so I escaped the art in which I was trapped, but still I must make of my world art. It gets very confusing. There is a quote by a famous artist, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I want to play with the world like a child.
Yes. My scrapbook is an expedition. A paper ship on the unconscious deep.
Towards no horizon. I progress through fathoms of depth and height.
Crow, here is the page I made last night. What do you think it means? I show Crow my latest scrapbook page. I cannot show it to you because it has not yet resolved itself into a single image. It is holographic, changing with angles of light. In a forest looking down or at a city looking up or upon a dune looking out? A figure, his back is to me. No…he looks right at me, I sit on the ground, no now, behold, his arm reaches out… Crow says:
Happy New Year! I now operate on obelisk time, and today is January 31…one year ago I moved into my towering astronomical clock. To scald out the old and wring in the new, the birds and I took a bath. Here the birds are in their bathing caps, I in my flaming sword:
You will note that crow showed up as a parrot. I have no explanation for this; crow delights in incongruities. I trust that parrot-hood is only a temporary condition intended to confound everybody. Once we’ve grown accustomed to this guise, it’ll vanish, like the shadow of the circling bird when clouds occlude the light.
When I started this scrapbook I did not know that my measured and even conversations with the birds would become silly, intense, with fashion shows, flaming pillow notes, cupid costumes, and a very bad day for the black swan. I had no idea, when I started, what I looked like, or that an accurate depiction of my life required a queerly elaborate picture language. I discover my voice speaking to you.
Here are my ten favorite pages from the 72 I made this year (click to view):
- Beauty in ruin…a conversation with the hawk
- The FASHIONABLE BIRDS
- The stag & the unicorn
- Portraits of the odalisque as a young girl
- Learning to wait
- My swim-suit
- A WOMAN THERE WAS starring Theda Bara
- My first letter from imprisoned odalisque, Henriette
- Publicity photos from my movie
- MY MOVIE!!!!!
Which ones did you favor?
I am thinking about the lion roaring in the enraging desert:
What is passive, immobile, asleep in the heart creates a desert which can only be cured by roaring.
The desert is not in Egypt; it is anywhere once we desert the heart.
Our way through the desert is the awakening to it as a desert, the awakening of the beast, that vigil of desire.
the desert is where the lion lives our guardian
“The lion roars at the enraging desert” [Wallace Stevens]
The more our desert the more we must rage, which rage is love.
We fear that rage. We dare not roar.
greedy paw, hot and sleepless as the sun, fulminating as sulfur, setting the soul on fire.
Happy Winter Solstice. The days now lengthen.
Live in the leonine passions of the soul.
Even if you love me, you don’t have to give me a gift.
Here’s my gift. For you:
I hope you like it. But if you don’t, it’s ok. It’s already evanescing, like steam from a delicate cup, like a dream whose perimeter you haunt all your waking day, hoping for a glimpse of something concealed in its center–a city or a garden or a copse of wild trees in which–what was it? You dreamed it, rejoicing. What was it?
Why won’t I give you a tea cup? With a handle big enough for your fingers and a deep saucer? One exquisite cup hand-painted with a clipper ship, or a little house by a lake where a man is fishing, or one perfect peony? The teacup, it would EXIST. You could HOLD it.
But you might become tired of it.
Am I in your thoughts when you are not here, when you are not with me? Do I exist for you? Do you love me?
-The Odalisque (you can download your own gift exemption voucher here.)
It came it came! A letter via staghorn post from Henriette! (read about Henriette here)
Everyone I know, used to know, is trashed and wavering in filthy board-rooms, louche galleries, swanky trashheaps. I hear their twinkling laughter, drunken howls and outrageous tweets even here, in my climate-controlled basement. I know they mean no harm. They are indifferent to me.
Thank you for writing. It is true I still have my coat, moth-eaten but sustainable, in this old trunk Matisse sketched for me. It is true I have few visitors–but few is more than I’m used to, having desired only solitude, like you. I with the company of bones.
Oh the bones, Odalisque. Lacunae of exquisite topology, elaborate curvatures, like dessicated ovaries flowering against a shockingly blue sky. Fractal erections. Antlers. Femurs. Knucklebones.
We are not growing young. It is only with labor, much much labor, that our extinguishment is not a snuffing out, but an ecstatic obliteration in light.
A guard is coming. He will peer closely at me to assure himself I haven’t disintegrated into an obvious fake.
On my very first scrapbook page I wrote these words: “I will write no more of love. Is anyone ever satisfied?” Henriette and I both experienced a disillusionment with “love”, whatever “love” is when you’re an odalisque who everyone wants to look at. At some point, bathed in gazes, thoughtful odalisques react to submersion in viscous adoration with the apparently outrageous question “What am I?”
Lovers come, lovers go, the retreat of street-shoes across elaborate carpets upon which we, barefoot, barely concealed by shimmering drapery, lie. What does an odalisque feel? Who is there, not feeling, not known? I felt trapped inside my own desirability. Inches beneath my skin I felt a barricade between all-but-my-surface and everything else: an unknown quantity <– my skin–> the world. The “real” world. I could see it, as if through chinks of mounded rubble. But what or who was in there looking out, so fiercely protected from invasion or intimacy? I felt a faint wind. I could see nothing, and the sound was a soft emptiness, a downiness into which too much had collapsed and suffocated.
The options available to Henriette & I ? Jaded hedonism, vengeful vampishness, feverish tragedy, or domestication, a settling down, settling in. We considered our options and cried “fuck this!” We meant these words metaphorically, not literally, and that, that delineated something raw and fibrous that we resolved to call “I”. We grabbed our coats and ran.
We were never afraid of living our lives alone.
I WAS afraid of becoming brittle and sopped, trash spit out of the ocean that crumbles at a touch–corroded aluminum, brittle cellophane, the shattered foil wrapper of something toxic and sweet. Better to be a seashell, empty and clean, or a beat-up piece of glass. Better to be a crab scuttling away from the encroaching foam, or even the dry rasp of the dune grass, if not the dunes, if not the collapsed lungs of the sea creatures upon the sand, if not the moon’s liquidity on the ocean’s trembling musculature, or the moon itself. No, not the moon. The winnowing basket woven across the sky by its mensual arcs.
That yes that.
Did you ever figure out how to LOVE someone?
The birds all say hi.
I was so focused on my first movie! Now that it is released, wide swathes of languor billow in the obelisk, revealing sun, casting shade. I sit inside it. Mindlessness after intense focus is very pleasant for a while.
My first movie was a response to a question from a reader….how did I get into my obsidian obelisk? Please do not hesitate to ask me any questions you might have about odalisque-hood! It is my custom to be as forthright and delightful as possible. You can ask questions via the comments, or by email at:
One reader question that I have not answered? Odalisque, would you accept a caller who arrived by zeppelin?
My first exploration of this question resulted in this image:
Hmmm. I will consider the implications of this image, and by so doing, the question.
More on that later.
It’s sandy here. I don’t know what happened. Wind outlandish wind a storm of wind that rattled the bed frame and deflowered windows, shattering glass. In the morning, a pile of sand, like an hourglass emptied on the floor of my obelisk. What duration was being measured? What, now that the sand has sifted, will soon cease? Is it bad luck to smash a glass of hours? What will I do with this temporal pile of sand?
Crow would like me to build an impermanent castle. Black swan says sand is good for wallowing in, shuffling grit into the itchy place between the wings. The starlings swoon in discrete calculations- one grain per pursed beak, which will be more numerous?
Hawk sees in the pile of sand a microcosmic manifestation of our parched souls.
I need a broom. It was Halloween and I wanted to be a witch because that’s what you call women who fly. I want to fly but I don’t have a broom, so I dressed up as Owl instead. Owl took one look at my costume and said “isn’t that a bit like gilding the lily?” I’m not sure if “lily” refers to me or Owl.
Owl was disgruntled with all costume choices. “Why can’t I be a fish or a movie star or a fantastic aviation device?” moaned Owl, clearly under the influence of my first movie (have you watched it?) No, Owl is, this year, a very perturbed cupid. Here we are, with my inexplicable heap of sand:
Owl has no access to electrical equipment at this time, so we had to take a photograph of ourselves in our costumes. I will post a scanned version, soon.
**Here’s the scanned version of our Halloween costumes. It enlarges :
The publicity photos for my upcoming movie HOW I GOT INTO THE OBELISK have just been released! I’m a little bit miffed that the black swan is more prominently featured than me…as usual he’s flaunting his large wingspan.
This movie may be rated X. As usual, I’m not wearing any clothes, but this movie is especially scandalous because I’m not wearing a head. I feel shy about it, somehow. It’s awkward having so much exposed. For the publicity photos they shot my legs separately from my head. That was much easier for me.
I am very eager for the release of my movie! Final tweaks are being done.
HOW I GOT INTO THE OBELISK
SEE YOU SOON
FAR FROM THE SILVERY MOON
ON A GLOWING SCREEN
I’m still trying to finish my movie “How I got into the obelisk”, which is a response to a reader question.
I discover that even with a paper movie, post-production takes longer than actual filming. Not to mention the complications with my composer. He and his guitar exist only as astral projections, so scoring is frustrating and time-consuming. Movie projections, astral projections, it gets pretty wacky up here. Thank goodness for owl with two clear eyes in a very clear head that can rotate 270 degrees.
In the meantime, here are some of the props used in in my movie. One day maybe they will be auctioned off for millions of dollars and I can start a foundation to build secluded spots for odalisques world-wide. Which reminds me…I still have not heard from my imprisoned friend Henriette, though the return staghorn post will undoubtedly take some time.
Those of you who regularly read know that I occasionally watch movies in my obelisk (here’s how I do it). Most of the movies I watch no longer exist. They star Theda Bara, she for whom publicity agents invented the word “vamp”. To be a vamp, as I understand it, an odalisque must possess magnetic powers of attraction coupled with:
1. stagnant, voluptuous repose: to immure a fascinated victim in slavish inertia, resulting in his eventual decay
2. seductive evasion: to lure an obsessed victim into fruitless pursuit, resulting in his eventual collapse
An exceptionally gifted vamp might employ a combination of the two to completely destroy her man.
It is a lot of work to be a vamp, something they don’t teach you on screen. Imagine yourself submersed in sultry repletion, an abysmal vortex into which all light, love and true happiness are absorbed. Your insidious repose, your oppressive sensuality and its opiate effect on your victim, inspire an image: an enchanted, dismal swamp. You are quite smitten with this simile (yourself as swamp) and are seized with the need to write it down. Immediately. You scramble across the bed for your notebook and your feather, scribble some words, pick up your scissors, pop open a new pot of glue, and before you know it hours have passed! Hours have passed in happy absorption and you’ve made a brand-new scrapbook page! You smile, satisfied. You look up from your creation, eager to share it with your fascinated victim, only to discover that he, in his boredom, wandered away.
It is hard to be an enchanting, dismal swamp every minute of every day. It demands focus and self-sacrifice.
Your formerly-fascinated victim will never get to see your scrapbook page –which you were, after all, really excited to share with him–because he will sail off and smash to smithereens at the first sound of sirens. If he survives the rocks, they’ll turn him into a mute, docile pet, fed on mangled sea-claws, vicious taunts, and the occasional nauseatingly arousing caress.
But I meant to tell you that I am making my first movie! It will be epic, an odalisque crashes to shore and all, aLL ALL IS LOST. Except…
It’s also low-budget: it was shot entirely on paper. I hope it will make sense.
Because of this movie, I don’t have a scrapbook page to share. But I do have a movie still. In this shot I am not a swamp. However, I am in something that looks like one:
Thank you for looking. Thank you.
I am the odalisque who lives in an obelisk. I converse with birds.