The Trouble With Pictures

no photo death

Best In Show. Sign outside Death: A self-portrait at the Wellcome Institute.

I’ve always been looking for a window and I have been thinking about this. What kind of window, and how, and why. I mean always as in both before all This and since. Before and since Emily Wardill and I were writing We Are Behind, but charged since then too.

I mean it literally, like looking for rooms with good windows (even from the outside I can look at any building anywhere with windows and think it would be an alright place to live because of what I imagine could be seen from it. It’s like men with legs. Most men with legs I like. Rivers, snow and body hair: all are things to do). And I mean it figuratively – not as in opportunism, but as in time and space (OK so I’m having another go at these) as they might expand into that kind of luxury described by a movement between inside and outside the more massive the better, which is how Berlin at its best is to me. Which is to say that this window, whatever it is, is relevant, a point of intersection not only in the most obvious sense but also and to here and now.

Paintings and theatre are all windows, but it’s of what kind that counts. They are pictures, the first windows. But what pictures? And why? Dead or alive, as in a record or a landscape + a weather condition? Still or not? Escape or enclosure? What pictures for me… I am sure it’s not that kind of ownership described in one of those novels by Forster where the EnglishMAN enters a room and walks always immediately to the window as if to see indicated through it something that He owns, pitiable, neat colonial dreamer, wherever. I do not want a window to own anything, to fix by a leg, a stick, a fence, a gun, a dress, a hat, the look that wards off

Mr and Mrs Andrewslike Mr and Mrs Andrews do us from their estate.

Actually, paintings might not be pictures like the first windows, but I am going back to them as if they are, or something. But whose lies are these for which I fall? They are blueprints, grids. For action, or action itself. Because they are, I have thought, building blocks even though to admit this is also that risk to admit history-as-ownership when I want to give it away. Anyone’s, everyone’s. Even if they are templates to be undone by being re-read, misread, read, is this enough to undo everything else? What is enough? When? Who for? What for? What do they become? Something seen cannot be unseen. But unwritten?

At best let’s say, this act of reading, this something being done, is like breathing by the means of this window that I am looking for, if it were found. It is a subjecting to time. It is looking-out-of and in-through simultaneously, the moving from the inside to the outside with as massive a lungful as you can, but gently. Breathing/reading/moving. Pictures are removed from time by their collection, by the institutions or individuals that collect them, by definition – they define each other in this way, lasting forever. But are paintings necessarily, in and of themselves, without time? Can it be that they are only made so by what is done to them? Maybe these cannot be separated one from the other. But I also want to say that paintings are not in and of themselves necessarily not subject to time – it is just our fear of death that does this – and so that to read them as such isn’t perverse, but joyful, its counter(part). A stop not to them but to this other mechanism, the defining, the knowing, the historying, even if not enough is undone by doing it.

Or, let me start again, I am going back to pictures now because I can, quite literally: not to all of them but to some of them. Those of them in fact that are opposite the Parliamentian Benches of the National Gallery, those free seats for all, with wide studded leather, crafted wooden arms, subdivided into sections that are my current gravitational pull if I have time on/in my hands – because it is a place to be and being there is alright – placed in with the Rubens’s, the Velazquez’s and, well, the Englishes; Turner, Reynolds, Gainsborough. Well, actually, I’ve never really got Rubens and I can’t hardly stomach Velazquez right now, so where I mean exactly is in front of Mr and Mrs Hallett on their morning walk:

6040728677_35e93961e4_zAnd here they are, and they are also owners, these two, I imagine, and I sat there not because I wanted to look but because I wanted to sit down and there I was, slap bang. I’d looked up before, and now I looked and I really felt that now, by now I know this painting and what I thought I know is that here are owners in a state of fleeting, the wild fever of themselves and money. I am convinced of this, here. They are portrayed, we’re told, on or just before their wedding day. The trees and their clothing are a lot more torrid than you can tell by this reproduction. She might be wearing her wedding dress. They are merchants if nothing else for me than by their cheap-fine trippery that could be bought, ribbons and bows like Gainsborough’s sisters sold. And every single bit of frippery is flipping or fripping in the wind like every single leaf and the hairs on the dog. Am I this leaf or that one? And the asymmetry of the opening in the trees to say from where they come, they are emerging in a whirl/trap/whip/bubble. Where are they going? This is the fever of the mercantile, the nascent class, the buyers, unfixed in the very moment of their being painted, of their painting, their frenzy. Oh, the worry fraught. Despite losing his fortune gambling on the horses though, these two still stayed married for 48years. So it’s a game and it’s not unkind, this fleeting surface a roll of the dice and what remains, but it’s a picture of fever painted in a frenzy, by halflight that is, using brushes on 10ft poles like how they say Gainsborough used to do. Half close your eyes and everything is stable. Feverish.

And as I’m thinking all this, a woman comes along with her daughter and the daughter sits next to me and the mother is standing. The daughter is facing the Halletts with me, the mother looking over the bench at the opposite wall – of Turners. The mother suddenly says, quite crisp and well perky like she just has to, without looking at her daughter “Look, darling, it’s just exactly like those barbecues we have on Sundays.” Which seemed pretty brilliant to me and I smiled at her and said this was wonderful and then she was at pains to explain to me that they lived near Shearness, or actually, now, more like Whitstable. But she went on about the Thames Estuary and just how beautiful etc. and then the reasons why and precisely because of it being absolutely EMPTY. Empty of others. The land is theirs alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. I thought I liked empty space, but it doesn’t describe the window. I am dead cold. It’s not the window. Paintings subjected to time are also + people, living, correspondences.

Not four days after I was sitting on the Benches in the National Gallery I went to see Skyfall with Mike + Dalston, selling out the Rio. Halfway through which, where does James Bond receive his new toys from the geek-youth new Q other than exactly – I mean really exactly absolutely – only sat in the same spot in the same room of the National Gallery as I had been – do-be-do uncanny – and none of the pictures had been rearranged that I could tell. But Bond and Q are facing the Turners which are behind the camera. In the background we see Reynolds and the Halletts. Of course, we see the Halletts. Rachel says what’s in the frame is what the director wanted to be in the frame and that’s why this very particular angle showing these things and I trust her and wonder if what is in the frame is seen if it is not seen by the characters? Or rather what do we see, the viewers, about the characters? Which is maybe what Rachel means too. That we are meant to see. Well, it’s also a game – this ‘aging’ spy, this ‘young’ kid, these new toys that are as old fashioned as they come (and go), a gun and a radio. So, we see England in the Halletts at this mid-distance, like permanence and definiteness. Their England offsets the other their’s intimations of Mortality. It stays like a feature film franchise, while they, as characters of course they stay too but only because those that play them also come and go. This play death.

This permanence is a fever, when it is a picture + time, which is what I got that day, sat there, not a sweat, but company, my keeping company (keeping me company) for a period of time. Of course, They who the filmmakers might stand-for, hide or represent don’t want England to be a fever, which is why the painting is in the mid-distance so as not to show its leaves. Like, it just doesn’t matter if general people die in a Bond film: they ought to, for the drama, no question, looks nice, is fine. Really this is an England They want to paint in a halflight of course, that’s showbusiness, in the same way that M does when she quotes Tennyson later on as the general justification for MI6: i.e. it’s only a superficial justification of Them working for “us”, as in it is no justification at all, but the very battlecry of the singular adventurer fighting to prove he’s Daddy, Ulysses with nothing but contempt for the “savage race / That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me” [my emphasis]. Even if “as though to breathe were life”, it is still Ulysses’ breathing alone that counts, in competition, “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” It is me, me, me: the fevers. And that’s why we like James Bond: it empties, and by doing so is Their sustaining fiction, lies.

What I am trying to say is that the Halletts are England and fever but that I do not want to be alone as in like the lie of Forever, or an owning Mine, so they become voices and noises, the risk of others, I am producing them into company, the conditions of this window, a picture subjected to time, unsustained, temporal. Jubilant noises, but noises. Just like this photograph

lung 2

is the Thames Estuary at Leigh-on-Sea. And it is also those waters lapping over its mudflats, the fluid produced by cancer in the blood filling a lung, the chest around a lung from the bottom up, that could be pictured

fog lung

in an X-ray by the London fog from Martin’s flat on the 14th floor, which didn’t lift, which was why Harry and I went to Whitstable which is a weird place anyway, which nonetheless was before that dead cold and the happily lonely owner of the empty space for barbecues on a Sunday


and James Bond property-less but not free, without his family and no M***** and because of the way it feels in my chest like the sound that this looks like; is it the creaking of a thin strap (one from Jutta’s Mad Garland I’d like) against a leather jacket as I walk, leathers on leather, or just bones, or the elbow creaking of the jacket itself, differently, softer? These waters lapping. If I move like this does it stop? Stop it. If I breathe like this? Lie like this? If I do not feel it for a moment is it gone? Can I find it again? I do not want it then I panic and I miss it. I’ll rummage. It feels like I could hear it, the sound of water constantly simmering in a pan for an in-breath and sometimes at the bottom of an out- more viscous, with deeper, bigger plops. And I fill it up myself with conjecture, something to do, time and space are taken up. Given up. it’s not this picture that I want is it.

Have I gone too far? I doubt, I doubt, I doubt and so I am alright really. I mean, it could also be a beautiful day

nice day 2It could also just be a beautiful day

nice day 4It could also be a beautiful day

nice day 1It is a beautiful day

nice day 3etc.

The trouble is that to have words put into one’s mouth is as violent as having them taken away. The window is not persuasion. Medicine is fact but it is also fiction: it is the trouble with pictures that are not windows.

But Lo! What’s this?! Other noises?! [Noises off?] Oh pitter-patter tinkle… could it be, could it… be… B… Ba-Bam… Ba- Ba-Ba-Ba—Ba-ambi… Ba-Ba-Bambi L.?!!!… is he coming?… oh come…


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