20211109_Elmgreen + Dragset Installation_v12.jpg

Installation view, Elmgreen & Dragset: The Nervous System, November 10 – December 18, 2021, Pace Gallery, New York © Elmgreen & Dragset

Essays

Last Night I Dreamt In Metal

By August Thompson

Last night I dreamt in metal.

It started with the innocence of memory. We’d just left the Tanner siblings sweating on their court—you complained how they always won and never conceded the idea of home court advantage. We figured we had about four hours before we had to meet Our Old Man and I pestered you, as I do, to show me what you’d been working on all these weeks.

You’d only let me in your studio once before, and even then you made me wait at the front entrance until you’d covered your canvases with tarps like body bags.

Your studio was a strange, dilated pupil of a circle, where the white of any light dimmed the closer it got to the center. I couldn’t see all of it no matter how quickly I moved my eyes. I asked how you got anything done in here, dark as it was and strong as your contact prescription was, but you didn’t answer.

You’d glitched to the far side of the gallery while I was looking around. You were standing in front of a canvas as big as a ping pong table. Your hands were trembling and I said, Hank, are you all right?

But you didn’t hear me or you did and you kept ignoring me. I walked toward the canvas and I felt that inexplicable and convincing fear. I felt as if the light behind me, just beyond my periphery was hardening into jagged stones or semi-blunted blades. And I worried that your taking off that tarp, which was clear now, like Tupperware flesh, would make all three of us—you, me, whatever was on the canvas—exposed. And that this skinlessness might bloody us. That we might bleed until this room was full, until every work of yours was red.

I yelled at you to stop but when I strummed my vocal cords, you looked back and smiled and I felt silly. It was OK. Big sister was telling me it was OK and big sister had never been wrong before.

And then, when you took off the tarp, the canvas was blank and I laughed. Again, I’d worried about nothing. I imagined that later, when we sat down at our usual sushi boat place, Sushi Yacht, you’d give me shit for all my paranoia, as you always did.

The blades of light behind me softened into fingers which braided my hair and rubbed the knots in my jaw. I joked and said, I see you’ve been working very hard. And you told me to shut the fuck up and you were so harsh we both had to laugh.

You picked up some type of brush—I could never remember the intricacies of your craft—and plopped it into a black paint that reminded me of nightsky.

You considered the brush for a moment. I found it sweet—you were always burying your pride about your work, but here you were, considerate and forceful. As you started your first stroke, I looked down at my watch, worried about leaving Our Old Man waiting. But the glass of the watch’s face was punctured—all of the notches, each one for every hour, each hand, had stabbed upward.

The fear returned to me and I started to bound for you, not knowing why, but needing to. And as you made your first stroke, your body tilting with the motion of the paint, I watched you stiffen as I started to feel it.

We hardened, starting from our digits, each helixed muscle, each stretched tendon, your swimmer’s shoulders, my skinny ass that always made sitting uncomfortable, were smithed into stillness. There you were, forever mid stroke, and there I was, running toward you, left foot off the ground, trying to get you to stop.

Before the metal took my brain, I could only think about Our Old Man, sitting there waiting for us. And I prayed he was still soft, vital, human. If only for the reason that he wouldn’t have to spend the rest of eternity waiting, a bronze carapace on top of that chair, wondering what happened to his baby boy, his darling girl.

ELMGREEN_DRAGSET_inst_540_20211109_v013-Medium Resolution — 150 dpi .jpg
Elmgreen & Dragset

The Nervous Fictions

Writers Respond to Elmgreen & Dragset
Read All Essays
Essays — Last Night I Dreamt In Metal, by August Thompson, Dec 16, 2021