AM I MEDIEVAL? . BERNARDO JOSÉ DE SOUZA

Am I medieval? 

One morning, rousing from disquieting dreams, Fancy Violence found herself in bed, upset about the linen stained a strong, blood-like red. She rose to her feet in a split second, still shaken by the insanely fast whirlwind of memories that swirled around in her mind, vivid as frescoes, so scary they could wake the dead. But deep inside she knew it was not her fate to go out like a mortal: she’d gone through the centuries unscathed by the greatest tragedies, suffering quietly, resolute on her iconoclastic mission, noble or lowly though it may be – moreover, her blood was the color blue, and the red could only have come from the oil paint that dripped from her brushes, or from any unsuspecting creature that might have crossed her path the night before. She abhorred mediocrity like few things in life.

She tried replaying the last twenty fours in her mind (an insane task!), struggling to tap into that spark of memory that would make everything clear, and maybe this would bring peace to her untamed spirit, battered from thousands of rough nights and atrocities committed. Finally, with a flash, she remembered the painting she had long obsessed about: Las Meninas, by Velásquez.

She had developed the terrible habit of destroying masterpieces while still a child, as she strolled across the Grand Sablon or any cabinet of curiosities that seemed ignominious to her, marked by the infamous personal taste of some unsuspecting aristocrat. But in this particular picture, the Velásquez painting, my God!, there had to be another reason, because it wasn’t about renouncing the master; on the contrary, she had devoted days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries of her disturbing adventure in this planet to him. And yet yes, there was something, something that made her heart race instantly as she contemplated that work: would it be hatred at the unattainable genius or repulse at the haughtiness and ugliness of those midget girls? Definitely. It was the mirror, no doubt: the terrible stare of those gentlemen that confronted her with the unknown, with what escaped her sight, danger lurking behind the door, the gaze of those who hide behind the balustrade, or the room divider, mocking her alternatingly fair and atrocious figure. She irremediably hated anything that was not frontal. The worst of tragedies, looked upon squarely, had the ability to reveal human brutality, but the blow, oh, the blow behind one’s back could cause any manliness, any vestige of ethics and bravery to crumble.

At this exact moment a fortuitous image surfaced, catapulting her into the remote past: she was home, rereading Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis by the fire, from where she saw the imposing Grand Place in the foreground. Never had Brussels been as black as in that early 20th century night; the Gothic façades always soothed her spirit: their thorough geometry and organicity, capable of imploding form into an ensemble at once dynamic and perennial, echoed the universe’s genealogy – Pythagoras and mysticism encapsulated in one gesture. And thus she reflected on the nature of hybrid things; on how much math there is in geology, in the disorderly fractals that endow chaos with meaning through their beautiful shapes, voluptuous, that’s true, but never recognizable. Difference and repetition. And so she fell into a deep slumber, once again in Morpheus’ arms.

***

There wasn’t a single clock that worked in the house. The cell phone that served as an alarm clock had been destroyed by some pachyderm the night before. Therefore, he would have to rely on his biological clock, which had been known to fail from time to time.

That morning, however, upon rousing from disquieting dreams, Rodolpho Parigi found himself in his studio, stark naked: a flock of flying dragonflies blocked part of his vision, and as if in a desert storm, he flicked the dust from off the eyes that those invertebrate beings had stirred, and saw himself whole in front of the mirror like it was the first time. The image was that of a masculine body, fair as Adonis, his own, but still something seemed out of place. Wings jutted out timidly from his back, the fingers reddened, still encrusted with paint. Or was it blood?

He instinctively started a drawing he’d never envisioned before, a unique shape that transmuted into many, each one different from the last, shapes he’d never successfully replicate if he so wished – but this didn’t cause him any fear either. What he saw was a strange body, foreign, endowed with a fabulous architecture, sanguine as only India Ink could concoct; a sort of cell, a proto-creature that moved of its own will, challenging the creator and, in doing so, revealing his own ambition for control and self-determination. But soon thereafter the destructive wish took charge – the plasticity of the accident, as Catherine Malabou would put it -, scorching an entire bloodline, a lineage of works recognizable in their shared aesthetics, but soulless, devoid of the enthusiasm only the creative/destructive joy can offer audiences. And this was when he evoked the masters, above all Michelangelo and his ruined, impoverished figures, living-dead in sheer light and shadow.

And so he forgot about yesterday, went back thousands of years to an ancestral ground zero, the zone that precedes Creation, and consequently to God the creator. Supreme freedom, Parigi thought: and thus the artist recreated not only the woman, but also the man and the transsexual.

***

A body lay in the vestibule. Everyone ignored the soulless being that rested there. By then, the animal’s lineage was impossible to ascertain: was it a man, woman or animal, transvestite, yellow or mulatto, white, poor or mad? No one could know.

But Fancy Violence crossed that hall, marching over the corpse like someone who perceives the present only as mirage, her intuition telling her the future holds surprises even more revealing than the one she’d just gotten through. Step by step, she kept on steady and strong on Paulista Avenue, and in the blink of an eye she forgot about the work of art she’d just destroyed with precise brushstrokes that were nonetheless as delicate as the hand that caresses the bulge underneath the holy cloak.

No fear can make the artist retreat. The power of destruction – to desecrate one’s own work – proves to be the ultimate joy.

***

That day, he decided of his own volition not to wake up. He would simply levitate, and thus remain above worldly disillusion. He would like to be appreciated in his entirety, whatever nonsense was uttered by the mouths of mortals who barely understood the creative virility his hybrid nature afforded him.

He hovered, surrounded by the beings he given life to. Monsters or beings, they were alive, in spite of everything and everyone. And they held vigil over his body.

***

Sometimes I love and build castles

Sometimes I love so much I take a holiday
And go on a tour of hell

Am I Medieval?
Baby, I think I’m such a hip guy
in the latest fashion of the new middle age
On the media of the median novelty

Cazuza (loosely translated)

***

Rocked by an underground song, guarded intently by the magnanimous sentinel atop the gallery – the Great Face, its beauty second to none –, they, Fancy and Rodolpho, both sleep the sleep of the just, side by side. And so years passed on end, until the artist woke, mad like William de Kooning painting in his final years, visceral like only David Cronenberg could be, passionate like Jean Genet in his prison daydreams. But there was a band in the background, playing in key, violent rhythm and all-out transgression, echoing guttural voices on classical architectures, like the dragonflies’ wings in their scandalous geometry: the picturesque of the achiote mingling with the divine dust that emanates from the winged figures flying over an exploding universe.

But low and behold, the artist has fallen asleep despite the noise all around.

 

Bernardo José de Souza