by James Robison
I'm Security, hired and positioned to reassure visitors that there is value within the gallery, things worth protection.
art by Robinson Accola
But what, which, how much, they will ask me.
Me, because I am a wide man with feet planted wide apart, laces flossed through eyelets, evened up and looped into two infinity symbols, symmetrical bows on blackberry black leather shoes with saw tooth gum soles. Elbows easily bent a bit, big hands cupped over genitals, seaside tan, pate baldly gleaming, azure eyed.
I know the street numbers, the directions; I am a mediator between the confusions within and school kids, nuns, civilians from out there. My uniform shirt, a shade of clay, is starched and creased, and my blown up belly is slung over my striped gray pant. "You know the score by any chance?" I'm asked. Or. "Ladies?" Or. "The time?" Or. Even. "Is it April, has thirty days?"
It's fierce bright in the gallery: stone rooms, whitewashed, with wooden floors that pop like old bones. "Wasn't this a shoe factory before?" I am asked.
Third floor. Smoked glass walls. You always think we are doomed for storm. Treetops greengray before the cool bricks across the courtyard.
Last month I mounted the DO NOT TOUCH exhibit, a show of [sculpture] cards, each as tastefully printed as a death announcement, with an emphatic but polite font biting deep into the surface of the creamy stock. People could not resist touching the DO NOT TOUCH cards; some tried to lick them. No wonder! The artist had flavored them: lemon phosphate, apple licorice, vanilla rum. I was instructed to put the cards within temptingly easy reaching distance of civilians and then enforce the cards' directive. And I did. Both.
"What is up with this crap?" folks wanted to know.
"How much are these worth? What is the projected rate of interest on this artist?"
"Is she dead? If she dies—"
"Who is allowed to touch them? Why do they smell so good?"
I give you free brochures but you'll want the slab of an exhibition catalogue, 50 bucks, pages slick as postcards, perfumed with new press smells, telling you all about it. Each catalogue is a trophy and, I think, a kind of apology, an excuse. Here is our show, it says, and if you can see through walls and look close you will locate how we failed this time. "But this is another world, patron, doge, outsider," the exhibition program will go. "Here is your beat sheet, shooting script and what Viridian Gogolak of the Archives of The University of Budapest has to say. Expect no apologies. We are charging you and we make excuses and in the very act of addressing your concern we confirm it. But, look, if we were taking the piss, would we need a fucking guard?"
The artist wrote me into her installation; I reckon she believed my part was a conceptually droll and witty signal, an assertion of her carefree faith in serendipity and the judgment of blue collar fat men such as me, numb thugs with big guts such as me.
She wrote, boasting, "I had no say in the placement of the sculptures [cards] and left this entirely to Max, of the gallery security staff—"
She wanted to take a picture of herself, Tag Heuer on her bicep instead of wrist, moss-soft corduroy trousers, hugging me, three times her weight and three hands taller, in my giant security uniform, as baffled persona. Photos saying, "I own a voluminous spirit and can love even the clueless, even those without art." Of the 120 digital images, she threw out all 67 where I was making V-finger devil horns behind her Louis Licari haircut.
She used me as an element, an element of whimsy, proof of her democratic spirit and her role as provocateur but because I ate several of the cards, fourteen, after my lunch of Caesar salad and Perrier one Tuesday, and considering that in their gift shop versions, the cards [sculptures] were for sale at fifteen-hundred dollars each, when signed, my own sense of myself as artistic saboteur, post deconstructivist neosyndrome-ite activist was improved in ways that angled more keenly and flared with more ironic light than hers.
I am what she can only strive to be. I am what is not. I am dark matter. Security. Being this is all that is left to be in a gallery-anything else could be art and therefore commodity—so I am the gross presence of what isn't, such as, for only one example, the thousand paintings of Marcel Duchamp's later work, which he never painted. And all the sense-making sounds Beckett refused to make, the pauses of Pinter, the no chairs or bosoms or swallow-tailed kites in the radiant bloody fields of Rothko. I am here/not here in the same sense light waves on their way to us through space bend up, in, around, over, curve, dip, swerve, and thus describe the shape of something that isn't there but must be.
All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2015 by its authors.
James Robison has had many stories in The New Yorker, has won a Whiting Grant, a Rosenthal from the American Academy, published two books and has had an issue of the Mississippi Review dedicated entirely to his short fictions. He has been in Best American and The Pushcart, co-wrote a feature film that is just out, and is good company on long car trips.
Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.
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