Breaking the rules in the art gallery

Thirty pieces of silver, by Cornelia Parker, is utterly beautiful. I sit on a stool, contemplating it. The wires glitter in the bright light. Some of them are taut, some are loose, where one of the pieces of flattened silver sits on another. Because the wires are so long, when they sway like a pendulum they swing very slowly. They move, gently, in the air currents generated by people walking by. I looked at the narrow passages between them, and thought, how lovely it would be to walk through.

I was almost ready to do this when the Tate worker came in.
-You know, I really want to walk through it.
-Yes, he said. That’s almost like a corridor.
-I can’t do it with you there, I said. You couldn’t go round the corner so I could?

I looked round, and he was, indeed, moving into the next room so he could not see me. In a state of total relaxation I sidled through the beautiful thing, taking care not to touch the wires. Unfortunately, right at the far end a flattened fork got caught in my skirt, and pulled it up. A woman plucked it free.

Then I saw the guard again. He is an artist: he makes sound sculptures. He also does painting. He makes constructions of plywood and other materials, with a speaker inside, and plays electronic music he composes through them. I told him I write poetry. He said literature is an art form anyone can practise: you need no materials beyond memory.

I asked him if he would photograph me dancing through it again. He took my phone. I spent a moment readying myself.

I am centred and collected.

I am just about to move through the sculpture

when he says no, he can’t let me do it. Oi!

Or perhaps, as I am a story-teller, I chatted to the guard for a bit, but got a friend to take the pictures and embellished my desire to walk through into a story of how I actually had. I would hate to get that lovely man into trouble.

Also yesterday, I met a woman who asked me a few questions. I decided to answer rather than deflect. She then told me, in a tone of voice she would use as if it were obvious, as if she expected me to agree, that women do not like men in women’s toilets. She does not like male cleaners in women’s toilets. It’s the cleaning companies trying to reduce costs. She told me about JK Rowling at great length. Women must not be erased. I thought her spectacularly rude, but also impervious to any argument, so I simply let her monologue until we had got where we were going.

Enforcing normality

I was normal, most of the time. The dress hung in my box room unworn, a reminder of my weirdness. I could put it behind me, I did not need it any more, so I threw it away. Then I met a woman through a dating small-ad, who would tolerate me cross-dressing, and I got another dress, to travel a hundred miles to meet her. I never wanted to meet her again, but I did want to meet others, so I got a wig and joined the Northern Concord.

If I was not ashamed enough of myself, plenty of people were willing to remind me. I went to the concert hall, as I thought if I were to do this I had to go out among the straights, and the moment I stepped off Canal St onto Princess St someone roared out “It’s a fucking bloke”. Sir Cyril James Anderton, CBE KStJ QPM DL, had been Chief Constable quite recently, and a friend was stopped by the police as she drove home, in her street. They kept their blue lights flashing, in case anyone was asleep, and had not looked out to see what was going on. The morality police imagine they are the good people, and my problem after my upbringing and aversion therapy was, I agreed with them.

Writing for The Friend and The Friends Quarterly is too narrow. One way to break into being paid for occasional pieces might be to write for TransLiving International, which is in a magazine shop locally. It also does not pay, but I might produce articles I could show to the editor of Diva or Pink News. I looked at it, and could not bring myself to buy it. I found it unbearable. It seems mostly photos, more drag than trans. I still want to be normal.

I am allowed to be weird, but only in particular well-bounded places where the weirdness may be exaggerated. I want my weirdness integrated. I am not a whole person with a weird part let rip then suppressed. It is the same with male submission: a gothic weirdness is separated out, rather than part of ordinary life.

On the train, the ticket inspector called me “Sir”. I have complained to the railway.

After Meeting, and lunch with Friends, I went to Tate Modern. I love the Leonora Carrington self-portrait, not out of copyright: she was twenty.

I want art to enclose me, enfold me, and in the Turbine Hall there is Adventure Play.

On a previous day children were encouraged to decorate the place with strips of cloth and pens, and now they are encouraged to take wood, saw it to the size they want, and nail it in place. The “House” has narrow corridors and a doorway fitted to a six-year old. I fold myself up to go through. This is art I can touch.

Then Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Rooms. K complained to me that only members could get tickets, but it is an unsatisfying experience. I queued fifteen minutes to spend two minutes in each room. “How did you find it?” I asked the young couple behind. She had her eight-week-old son in a sling on her front. “Underwhelming,” she said. They live a few minutes’ walk away, along the river. My grandmother’s dressing table mirror had wings so that you could see yourself from the side, and if aligned, see multiple versions stretching out into the distance. The rooms are black, and filled with light. An unselfconscious heart finds them fabulous, but I was not quite that. Kusama lives in a mental hospital. On the walls are photos of the old lady, weird among the normies, using a golf-umbrella as a parasol.

Before the second, we are warned “Don’t fall in the water”, several times, by the curator. It must be an awful job, shepherding passive-aggressive art lovers into a room for only two minutes, with so many to get through before the next quarter hour and the next lot come in. “Oh no, someone’s fallen in the water,” she says, like a resentful nanny with a stupid child. She tears off some tissue to go and dry off the path. “If you get disorientated, look at the ceiling or the floor” she warns, in case someone sues, perhaps. On the wall I read Yayoi: “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.”

I did not fall in, but bent to ripple the water with my fingers. A wave machine making the lights move would be good.

The Tate won the privacy action this flat block’s management brought against it, but the 10th floor viewing platform is still not open. This meditating woman is not looking into the flats either.

I walk slowly over the level four bridge. There is the sound of hammering from below. On the South Bank, with no wind in the beautiful Spring sunshine, a busker plays soaring melodies on a guitar with a backing-track. I weep with the beauty of it. I feel so alone.

The Entombment

I love her face. She is in the moment, concentrating on the task in hand, and her misery does not get in the way. The necessity of completing her task may give her some relief, by giving her something else to think about.

She is practical and loving, in mindful presence. She is not unfeeling, but her feelings do not get in the way.

Wikipedia identifies these as Nicodemus the Pharisee and Mary of Clopas. Nicodemus has the same look of loving practicality, looking at the beloved, now lifeless face. Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome, below, stifle tears and cries.

Jesus’s mother with downcast eyes holds his hand, supported by John, the Beloved disciple, whom Jesus told to care for his mother.

Each face has thoughts and feelings readable and relatable on it. Fifteenth century artists used the stories in the Bible, which everyone would know, to show real human beings responding to real situations. In Marys’ grief they could feel their own. I can use the picture to find my complex relationship with feelings, of those acting or watching. It is linen, fragile, and faded from original brilliant colours.

National Gallery

Am I too trusting? Probably.

One of my myths, my stories for understanding who I am and how I came to be this way, concerns The Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Bruegel. When I was 18 I had a poster of it on my wall, which I got from my father’s magazine. It was a pose, to show I am an intellectual, and I hated it. The people are so ugly!

Here is a higher resolution image.

However after living with it for a few weeks, I saw it differently. I saw looks of wonderment on the characters’ faces, and loved them. They were ordinary people, amazed at the miracle of the Incarnation. And, I reached this understanding in a moment of inspiration, when the painting changed utterly for me, in an instant!

I had my first Art epiphany with an Epiphany.

So I was shocked to read the National Gallery companion guide, which argues the painting is a satire. “The crowd has eyes only for the rich presents.” I had to go and see, and I asked H to come too, to check.

And, yes, indeed the people are looking in awe and wonder at the gifts. One might be looking at Caspar, who is Black, and one of the soldiers looks out at us, but the soldier in the middle is definitely looking at the gold, and not the baby.

Still, I think it is a gift, always to think the best of people. It takes a lot to convince me they are not well-meaning, community-minded souls. Certain Tory MPs have convinced me, but they had to be revolting to manage it.

Fortunately in the same room is Jan Gossaert’s treatment. These Kings have a proper attitude of reverence.

In another, the people seem to be going through a tedious court ritual, going through the motions, rather than seeing God Incarnate. Or, perhaps, in a dog eat dog Italian court they cannot show any sign of weakness or feeling.

We liked the Botticelli, though. A fully clothed woman and naked man is unusual. And the Justus of Ghent is just my thing- a man kneeling at a woman’s feet, even if she is the personification of rhetoric. This is meant to be seen from below: when I sit on the floor and look up at it, I see it better.

There is so much beauty here! It delights me. These paintings 1250-1500 in the new wing are designed to evoke feelings of awe, wonder and reverence, and in me they do. When I want to leave, arted out, I have to stare at the floor to avoid being distracted.

Extinction Rebellion VI

When the police are cutting people’s lockons, it doesn’t half smell. I watched them at it in the morning and afternoon. Several phone photographers were cranking round the police lines. “Pity she won’t stand somewhere else so we could get a better view,” said one, as the sparks flew. Those plastic shields would have protected us. I don’t know whether the police provided the protester’s visor and ear protection.

“What are Quakers then?” asked the policeman. Continue reading

Extinction Rebellion V

I start my day protesting with something beautiful. Today, I find a piano on the road south of Nelson’s Column, and play Einaudi.

I am so relaxed after this I ask someone to take a picture of me at the piano, for the blog. But this is not a holiday or festival: she says there is a need for people to be sitting in the road, to avoid police getting traffic going. I go over to see if I can do anything. Continue reading

Extinction Rebellion III

It was a bit of a shock to find Lambeth Bridge clear with traffic flowing freely. The police have been harsh. There are a few of them standing around on the corners. One says “Hello” as I come past, and there are some behind me now, with their night-sticks hanging. Someone said there were armed police about. Continue reading

Truth and beauty in London

This man has found what he loves, and can devote time to it. His t-shirt has the words “eat, sleep, practise” written on musical staves, and he is playing a Rachmaninov prelude on the St Pancras piano. I stop to listen which discomposes him, and he gets the chords wrong. He stops on a tonic chord, and apologises in a slight foreign accent that he has not been able to play for ten days. I reassure him that though he lost the line of the piece, he managed to create a musical ending. He went on to Mozart.

I can pay either my electricity bill or my Tate membership renewal, so this may be my last trip into London for a while. And it is so lovely I may spend the money I cannot afford. I cycled to the station in warm sunshine, and got to Meeting just in time. I am surprised to find an all-age worship. I have a leaf made of card to write or draw on for the central tree. I sit beside my gay friend, and notice “And Tango makes three” on the mat in front of me. I read it. It is beautiful. After we agree there is nothing anyone could object to in it. Yet people do. Also there is this lovely cushion:

In Meeting, children play with stickers and glue in the centre, which has no table today. I sit aware of the beauty of the children and their absorption. People read what they have written on their leaves, and I feel able to say daffodil ministry- “he has found what he loves”. One says the words spoke to her.

Then they have a shared lunch before AM. One tells me of the spiritual practice of being part of where she is. She is bounded by her skin, and her awareness extends beyond into the world. So does her action, fitting the moment, the real not imagined world, participating not resisting. It makes her come alive. I feel alive hearing her. I feel we are both finding our way into such a way of being: we see the possibility. For me it is a matter of letting go.

I stuff myself. I am not passing up a free lunch.

Thence to Tate Britain for the William Blake exhibition. In the Tube, which is terribly hot, I sit opposite a slim, tall, beautiful woman. The man beside me has tattoos all down his left arm, and a rose on the back of his hand.

With my mantra I am here. This is. I am I am bowled over by the beauty of the sun through the trees on John Islip street. How can I just stop coming here? It refreshes my soul! Yet I hope it is the practice rather than the place which renews me. I can find other sources of loveliness. See Heaven in a wild flower, as Blake said. Everything that lives is holy.

It is crowded, of course. I love a picture of Christ offering to redeem mankind. God, a man broad of chest and thigh, seems sunk in grief. Satan flies below, satisfied, awaiting his due. And Christ seems overjoyed. His arms are beautiful, spread out as if on the Cross yet as if for a hug, expressing joy. I love the theology of it, the grace of his body.

To the bookshop. No, I can’t afford books either. I still get one, of extracts from Proust using paintings to describe a scene, illustrated by the paintings. I wanted a reminder of Proust, and reading one paragraph on the goodnight kiss, on how his unexpectedly merciful father looked like a picture of Abraham, fits.

I am here. This is. I am. I am saying goodbye to it for a time, perhaps, and I take in the full delight looking over the Thames from the front steps. I stop and turn round to take in the view from the entrance to Pimlico station.

This is Life!

I hope the joy is in the practice of awareness, though it may also be in treating myself, going to a place that I love.

I chatted to a Filipina woman in the grounds of the gallery. She is here for a job, has an American accent, and was taking a selfie with the gallery as background. A woman held the handlebars of a child’s bicycle for a moment, then let go and the child wavered off, unsupported. I am now on the train, pausing to look out the window. I should get home before sunset.

I  had a kickabout with my neighbour in the back yard yesterday, my first this century, the first perhaps I have ever done for fun. She compliments me on my skills- “you must play!” Perhaps she thinks I am a cis woman. My skills are nothing for a man. I watch her keepy-uppy.

Being where I am without resistance, in aware presence, brings joy.

I hope.