fine print

The Lady, The Scientist and Phlegm

Article by:

B Currie, The field - unwieldy head, 2012, medium format photograph of beeswax and gauze sculpture and performance, photography by Tamara Henderson, courtesy of the artist

Play Audio

There once was a woman who had to be careful not to touch anything. She couldn’t let objects know she was there. The Lady had a fatal attraction for fabricated things, they reached out to touch her, they reached out to embrace her, they reached out to engulf her. Once, she had received large bruises from a raku teacup knocking into her sternum. It was hard to know why it started, the endless yearning of thing to not thing, object to subject. Chairs clustered like affectionate puppies into her legs, clothes twined themselves tight, hugging the contour of her skin. Hot nights were murder, the bedclothes forming a close ball around her body, sometimes the pillows threatened suffocation in their powerful urge to be near the Lady.

How did the Lady live? She lived in a bare place, hot, dry and ancient, where the crust of human settlement could be scraped off like over-thick icing from a cake. She lived in a nudist colony built in the ruins of an ancient city. There she could rest on the massive slabs of marble and the fallen fragments of statuary were so eroded that they merely gave her a casual glance.

The sun burnt hot, the Lady ate grapes, nectarines, peas, and all variety raw plant matter. Nuts and seeds there were too – and raw fish and oysters whenever a visitor came up from the coast. Bread was not possible, its loving caresses left her covered in crumbs and minor lacerations; to eat it was agony. As a mass it hugged the inside of her stomach and lovingly attached itself to her teeth. Confectionary was out of the question. As soon as you put a bit of culture into nature, and made say, Veal ragu with porcini and pappardelle the Lady would be for it, pasta burns. Dumplings were the worst being a form of highly enculturated food: Ravioli, Pierogi, Gyoza, Cha Sui Bao and Empanadas within a five kilometre radius were all drawn to hurl themselves at the Lady. She had had to be very careful when selecting where to live, as food stuffed within food is very popular. Not surprisingly considering her diet the Lady was very beautiful with fantastic teeth. Many men visiting the nudist colony tried to seduce her and so long as they had subtle minds and were completely naked of all adornment at the time the Lady would often be enthusiastic. This was how she met the Scientist. Watching his handmade Roger W Smith watch snap back in magnetic attraction to the nape of the Lady’s neck he decided to run some tests.

Phlegm waded through thigh high weeds, through the thick pollen fug hanging over the ragweeds, ryegrass and cow parsley. Clouds of yellow green particles and microscopic brown fungi spores filled the air. Histamine hives covered their skin, small ulcers lined their inner lip. On Phlegm’s fingers the fabric of the dermis was ruptured by a thousand tiny sores. Phlegm’s nose a crusted red knob streaming mucus that creamed their upper lip and was swallowed in a post nasal drip equally. Their sclera reddened, the conjunctiva burning and lacrimal sac weeping sticky tears Phlegm pushed on through the field. Eustachian tubes itching, the membrane of the throat on fire with burning allergens, and accompanied by hoarse asthmatic breathing the crooked figure of Phlegm passed through the field.

But the mind of Phlegm exploded with aspirin effervescence. Ideas popping out like neatly cut cubes of an inverted mango cheek. The electrical thoughts said: air lives, everything burns wet and quick, our breath constantly moves within us like a wind tossed flame. Knowing the world is a structure in motion and requiring motion of us.

Living principal
Principal living thing

Viriditas, green fire, aflame beyond the word beauty. The sap principal, sharp in the nose mango latex green.

The mind of Phlegm rose through the meniscus of the world. Danced there, naked perfect, the structure revealed.

Mind that could be called God
Hands of human
Natural units
Living Principal
Principal living thing

All Phlegm had to sell was transcendence, and transcendence is useless.

The Scientist reduced his liver to warm putty considering the problem. His previous researches in the changes in structural chromography brought on by death stood him in good stead. As a child, his family home had been filled with stuffed birds and he noticed that those specimens lost the iridescent shine inherent to the crows outside. He studied the colour effects produced by the physical structure of feathers, butterfly wings and iris tissue and over time became a foremost expert on the changes to those chromatic structures that occur at the point of death.

In one experiment the Scientist tested the attractive force from a) an avocado b) a sliced avocado and c) guacamole and noted a predictably increasing result. He tested: a) a cheap disposable plastic cup, b) a computer, c) a bamboo flute  - they all hovered like a choker around the Lady’s neck. He tested embroideries, worn out pillowcases, cars, plates from Ikea and Song dynasty bowls, used mobile phones and robotic arms, knives and blenders, pickles, an uncut ruby and mokume gane rings. He tried: a) a cheap guitar from the local pub, b) a pearwood and inlayed mother of pearl viola, c) a pair of brand new red plastic maracas still in their cellophane. Of these last three only the viola showed a slight lessening of attraction, merely skidding a few metres towards the Lady. This was puzzling as the antique viola was handmade and had in fact been on display for nearly twenty years in a local tourism office.

Through all this the Lady maintained a sad quietness and looked after her garden in between testing sessions. She tried to grow food digging with her hands and diverting water into channels. She grew flowers too and their rich velvet softness was the only colour she saw.

Eventually the Scientist drew up a definitive list of his findings.
Processes and Substances affecting the highest degree in alteration of attractiveness:

  • Cutting/carving
  • Shaping or modelling an undefined substance into a specific form
  • Application of heat to affect change in molecular structure
  • Salt
  • Refining of one element from a whole (as in the pressing of oil or distillation, smelting etc)
  • Combination of substances not found naturally together (blending, mixing, emulsification or through layering or stuffing)
  • Plastics (encompassing several of these processes - see above)
  • Processes involving thread
  • Application of pigment
  • Controlled fermentation (bread, beer, miso, wine, pickles)

As to processes and substances affecting the highest negative impact on attractiveness, he wrote only two:

  • erosion through time and environmental factors returning to a state of nature
  • Authenticity? Fake?

He drank a little more Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado, and then he added another entry to the first list:

  • Frequency of use?

The Scientist pulled some strings and was able to borrow a painting that had been exhibited for many years as a Giorgione but had been found to be largely overpainted and faked at a later date.  It depicted a dream space landscape with two figures resting intertwined by a river and a rider and horse rearing in front of a large rock face. He also found a copy of ‘The tempest’ painted from a photograph in Indonesia. He strapped both paintings securely to a fallen rock slab. The Lady approached. Only the fake Tempest jumped and writhed with hungry longing. In wonder the Lady ran her hands over the unresponsive canvas. There was nothing, the large softly glazed canvas surface turned a stoic bland face to the lady. Her fingers softly drummed on the painted fabric as she stroked it. Nothing, it had been drained.

That night the Lady slept on the painting.

The Scientist reflected on the years of display the discredited Giorgione had lived through, the passing pressure of the eyes, many hundred thousands sucking hungrily. He added a third factor to the negative list:
Having been displayed in a museum for a lengthy period of time?

Phlegm made a thing. It took some time. The hands and the mind had to touch each other, all un-knowledge mixed with muscular finger skill. Dreaming firm, taking a chance, waiting, frustration, hands shaking, moving slowly, quickly. Pressing smoothly, violently, sanding, drying, repeating all, and all time suspended.

The thing was perfect, its forms almost vibrating where Phlegm’s fingertips had formed it. To see it was to find time unperceivable, to find space playing tricks – just you and it alone in the world. Delicate flutterings and a soft sweet pain occupied your throat and chest. There was no explicable emotion or meaning. To see it was to know for a moment the reason why.

Phlegm made another thing.

B Currie, The field - unwieldy head, 2012, medium format photograph of beeswax and gauze sculpture and performance, photography by Tamara Henderson, courtesy of the artist
B Currie, The field - unwieldy head, 2012, medium format photograph of beeswax and gauze sculpture and performance, photography by Tamara Henderson, courtesy of the artist