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



By Garth Greenwell

But there was something heroic about it, he thought, leaning back with his head pillowed on his arms, about him, the painter, though he had only become that a moment before, he was becoming it now, really, in front of the canvas, in the puddle of moonlight that turned his figure weirdly pale, as if dipped in milk, became it as he stood hesitating a second, stood without moving; until this very moment he had been something else entirely, a bit of fun, he had thought, as they danced together in a close dark room too full of people, the air heavy and wet as a tongue, a bit of fun, the night’s culmination, the point of it all, or so it had seemed when they stumbled drunk into the street and the man took his hand and said Come home with me though this wasn’t his home, home was somewhere else, someone else, he suspected, who was he to have illusions; this was a room for work, with everything in its place, the canvas, the cans and tubes of paint, with only the little cot in the corner suggesting rest, suggesting something else as the man led him to it, pulling at his shirt and belt, kissing him pantingly; he was glad to be kissed, relieved, you never knew until it began exactly what was on offer, how generous it would be, he had sat on the bed and leaned back and the man had climbed on top of him, straddling him, running his hands along his torso, which was bare now, they had both pulled off their shirts; he ran his hand up his ribs and chest and then he cupped his shoulder and traced almost the whole length of his arm before suddenly he was up again, off the bed, without a word but in a manner that suggested not rejection or dismissal, not the end of anything but the opposite, a confidence, a confession almost, as though he were preparing to say something that would change the nature of the moment, that would alter the understanding they were existing inside; he stood and crossed the room and quickly, somehow brutally pried the top off a large can and poured the thick liquid out and stood then immobile, in that posture that made him think heroic as he lay a little bewildered but excited, too, that the night could bring such a surprise; he thought it though he knew—even he, whose world it so decidedly wasn’t—that you weren’t supposed to think in those terms anymore, heroism, struggle, conquest, that they were outmoded, discredited, the whole endeavor demoted to mere labor, ungrand, unglamorous; but there wasn’t another word for what he felt when the painter finally moved, when after his moment of hesitation he arced his arm from one corner of the canvas to the other, leaving where nothing had been a stuttering thick line that seemed not beautiful exactly but of consequence, marking a change from the white of the canvas and the white of the light, the white of the painter, something new in the world; and once it was done he said What is it, hating himself the minute the words lanced the air, the stupidest question, the most naïve, though he didn’t mean what was it of exactly, and not what did it mean, not that either, he meant where did it come from, maybe, or where was it going; but how could the painter have heard anything but the plain dumb words as he took a step back from the canvas, surveying in silence, then turned and moved away from the window and so out of the light into obscurity again, from which his voice came high and sweet, faggoty, beautiful, reaching like his hands an instant later, why did it feel like a blessing, a consecration almost, the hands and the voice close to his ear now, repeating the solitary sanctifying word: You.

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